The following is a review of the second episode of HBO’s Barry — Created by Bill Hader & Alec Berg.
In the second episode of HBO’s new half-hour dark comedy show Barry — Chapter Two: Use It — the title character (played by Bill Hader) tries his hardest to find a proper way to react to the death of Ryan Madison, which he is involved in, while the rest of the acting class decides to hold a memorial in Ryan’s honor wherein they will all perform in some way, shape, or form. At the same time, the local police department is trying to figure out what happened on the night of Ryan Madison’s death, while the Chechen mob is looking for Barry and Fuches (played by Stephen Root).
The first episode of Barry was a terrific example of a pilot episode with an odd premise that presented potential tonal difficulties for the series, but which, somehow, didn’t really step out of line, so to speak. The balancing of the first episode was done so well that Chapter Two: Use It had a lot to live up to, and the episode mostly succeeds here thanks to the central performance from Bill Hader.
The episode presents a certain issue for Barry as his test as an actor now is to use the death of his deceased target as inspiration for an acting performance that he, certainly, is not ready to give at all. As the opening scene of this episode clues you in on, Barry has a tough time exhibiting human reactions to the type of tragedy that he, as a hitman, has caused (and, seemingly, been protected from by Fuches).
The episode opens with Barry and Sally (played by Sarah Goldberg) doing the classic drama warm-up game wherein actors — or acting class students — have to mirror each other’s actions. Barry doesn’t really know what he is doing, and when he is to appear happy he actually looks more frightening than anything else. As Gene Cousineau (played by Henry Winkler) announces that Ryan is dead, Barry immediately reacts with a perplexed and apathetic facial gesture until he realizes how the rest of the class reacts, at which point he immediately mirrors Sally’s movements. It is a great opening joke.
“You know, I use my past all the time in my work. If I want pure sorrow I call up Princess Diana’s death, or the day that my Dad fell off the roof when I was a kid. KAPLUNK… Or the next day when he went right back up on that roof.”
The whole idea that the acting students are to use Ryan’s death as a way to strengthen their craft, and, furthermore, that they are to use his death as an opportunity to get up on stage at an impromptu memorial is entirely self-serving. There definitely is a sense here that Barry’s apathetic reaction is not as inhumane as the other students’ reactions throughout the episode. It is almost like they are ‘putting on’ a sort of sadness. Barry came to acting class to find truth and purpose, but truth is not really something present in the competitive world of acting — not at the level Barry is at.
The one thing that didn’t really work for me in this episode, which I do think was much funnier than the series premiere, was the introduction of the police department. The police detectives joke about a colleague’s wife having left him, instead of taking their jobs seriously. And, later, one of the two detectives decides to just test out every combination with the hope of getting a password right — for a camera found in the Chechen mob’s car at the Ryan Madison-crime scene — until the password control locks them out. The section of the episode that dealt with the police department was just a bit too silly, for my liking, for a show that works so well when balancing tones.
By far, my favorite piece of comedy in the episode was the scene in which Barry is out on the balcony and talking to Sally on the phone about possibly doing a scene from Doubt, while Fuches is trying and failing at fighting with the guys sent over by the Chechen mob. It is a hilarious scene that shows just how great Stephen Root is, while still highlighting how self-obsessed Sally is and how clueless Barry is. And, of course, it ends with a great line.
“Showing two results for ‘off-book freeze cowboy.'”
On the other hand, the scene that best highlights the way this episode expertly balances the tones present in a dark comedy is the one in which Fuches and Barry have been taken by the Chechen mob for interrogation and torturing. Although Root’s character is the victim of gruesome torture, the members of the Chechen mob are also very funny, with Anthony Carrigan’s character NoHo Hank being particularly funny and charming, in my opinion. While Barry is a completely unconvincing actor, Bill Hader pulls off this tense interrogation scene convincingly and with flying colors. This is a scene in which he brilliantly shows arrogance, intensity, and seriousness, and that combination isn’t something I’ve seen from Hader before.
Half-hour comedies are great, but this episode goes by so fast and ends in an exciting and thrilling cliffhanger, which makes you wish it could’ve been maybe fifteen minutes longer. That is always a good thing. You always want a show that proves itself worthy of coming back to, which the second episode of Barry did. The show still balances the different aspects of the show brilliantly, and Bill Hader is really giving it his all.
For my review of the first episode of the series, click here.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen