REVIEW: Barry – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark”

The following is a review of the first episode of HBO’s Barry — Created by Bill Hader & Alec Berg.

Barry — a half-hour dark comedy series from HBO — comes from Saturday Night Live-alum Bill Hader, who plays the titular character, and Alec Berg, a producer of such shows as Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Silicon Valley. And if you’re the type of person who loved Dexter but thought it could have used a little bit of comedy, then Barry isn’t just ‘for you’ it is a match made in heaven. 

Think of this as a blend of James Manos Jr.’s Dexter and, well, Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is probably the closest comparison — a film where a criminal, who is hiding from the police, ends up running into an acting audition that he somehow knocks out of the park.

The series premiere of Barry introduces us to the title character (played by Bill Hader), a former marine who now works as an unhappy, but efficient hitman. When he travels to Los Angeles to kill an aspiring actor for the Chechen mob, he follows the actor into acting class where he is introduced to the competitive world of acting by acting coach Gene Cousineau (played Henry Winkler).

Barry is immediately impressed by the way Cousineau uses criticism to sharpen and agitate Sally (played by Sarah Goldberg), a female aspiring actor, so that she can get the most out of a rehearsed scene. In fact, Barry is so impressed that he starts to have second thoughts about not just being a hitman, but also about killing the guy that the Chechen mob has hired him to kill.

“Interesting. The story is nonsense, but there’s something to work with.” – Henry Winkler as Gene Cousineau.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into as the episode started. Sure, I had heard a few things about the show here and there, but I wasn’t really expecting much. And, really, the show didn’t truly grab me until one of the guys from the Chechen mob was upset about what was being shown on their computer.

But the moment that I knew this show was for me was when Barry went to the bar with his new acting class ‘friends.’ That’s when I was hooked. Seeing Barry being spellbound by the welcoming smile of Sally, and hearing the guy he was hired to kill come up with the simplest stage name just moments after one of Sally’s friends had insisted that Sally was thinking of The Usual Suspects, while Sally was too busy describing the movie she thinks she remembers to listen to her. This felt like my kind of show.

When I think about Bill Hader, I mostly think of his silly police officer character — Officer Slater — from Superbad or his iconic Saturday Night Live-character Stefon. But, in Barry, I was really pleased to see how different this character is. Barry, the character, isn’t inherently goofy, and he isn’t flamboyant whatsoever. Oh and he’s a much better shot than Officer Slater, as evidenced by the end of this episode.

Barry is a depressed ex-marine who, in spite of what Fuches (played by Stephen Root) says, has lost his ‘purpose.’ But even though his search for purpose through acting and his interest in Sallly may give him joy, his newfound interest in lights, camera, action, and appreciation is no guarantee that he is a good actor.

In fact, “Make Your Mark” doesn’t at any point give us the idea that Barry is a good actor, which should make future episodes very fun to watch as Henry Winkler’s character will likely struggle to find something in the hitman-turned-actor.

“If you want to have a hobby or something, then you can take up painting. Hitler painted! John Wayne Gacy painted. It’s a good, solid hobby. It never got in the way of what they were doing.” – Stephen Root as Fuches.

Of course, a show like this one also needs some darkness to mix in with the — I’m assuming — less than convincing acting from the titular character, and this first episode certainly hints at the possibilities for the show. The very end of the episode seems to suggest that Barry is extremely good at his job, and this episode has already shown us, what, five dead bodies? I hope the show continues to mix moments of darkness and murder in with the levity as effectively as this first episode did.

We can assume that it will keep being dark, as the Chechen mob is set up to be very dangerous. But, really, these moments showing the contrast between the dark, exciting, and dangerous life of a hitman and both Barry’s day-to-day life and the low-risk, low-reward joy of your run-of-the-mill acting class are excellent.

When it comes to the first episode of half-hour comedies you don’t really get a great sense of how the overall show will continue work. I don’t know if it will keep chugging along, but what I do know is that “Make Your Mark” is an exceptional start for a show with a premise that is, admittedly, a little bit out-there, so to speak.


– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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