One of the most famous and imitated lines Al Pacino has ever uttered is from the often derided The Godfather III where he cries out “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in”, and that’s been a common theme throughout HBO’s hitman comedy series Barry as the titular character has tried to escape the murderous life he’s led and become an actor. And now it also applies to Henry Winkler’s acting coach Gene, whose policewoman girlfriend Janice was cruelly murdered in the final episode of the first series by Barry (Bill Hader), as Gene was ready to walk away from his trainee actors until Barry opened up and told of the first killing he ever committed while in the army.
Given how the first series ended, and what happens to most people who come in to contact with Barry, it’s a decision that Gene may not live to regret. Even if it’s not Barry himself who pulls the trigger just being associated with him is enough to put someone’s life in danger as this episode proved when new mob boss Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) reveals that he feels disrespected by Barry and orders him to assassinate Esther, a rival drug trafficker, or he’ll tell his bosses about a past crime of Barry’s which could lead to the demise of his friends and associates.
This has always been a fairly dark comedy series with a dramatic edge to it, but after Barry murdered Janice it’s turned the whole show on it’s head and I’m not quite sure if the writers are aware of how much things have changed. Perhaps it’s just an issue I have, but before Barry was killing shitty individuals and it was a result of the horrendous experiences he’d had in the army so you could understand why he did the things that he did, and hope that he’d be able to leave that world behind, but now that he’s responsible for the death of someone who truly didn’t deserve to die he comes off completely unsympathetically.
For me this is a problem as it feels like we’re still supposed to care about Barry. Yes, the writer’s are aware that the character’s emotionally screwed up and not able to openly admit that what he’s done should lead to his incarceration, he just wants the world to carry on as it did, but rather than being absurdly funny I can’t help but feel irritated with the man, especially when it comes to his lack of sympathy towards Gene as he tries to get him to attend the first night of a play they’ve carried on creating without him, and then persuading him not to quit his job despite being responsible for his current mental state.
It’s only the first episode though and I could be wrong, perhaps they’re going to double down on the fact that Barry’s an absolute bastard and mine comedy from it, and I hope that is the case as it’ll be a lesser series if they try to get us to root for him again. And despite my issues with this episode there were still a good few very funny moments, from Hank’s interactions with Esther to the farcical death of the new hitman Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) had hired to replace Barry. Even though Gene’s distraught at the loss of his lover he still finds the time to briefly namedrop, mentioning how Rip Torn was once his roommate, and the narcissism and all round egotism of Barry’s actor friends never stops being funny. So it’s not like this is a disaster of an episode by any means, just that it has certain issues that trouble slightly.
I really loved the first season of this show, Bill Hader was superb in the lead role and the supporting cast all turned in what should have been award winning performances. The criminal who wants to retire but isn’t allowed to do so storyline has been done to death but co-creators Alec Berg and Hader managed to breath fresh air in to the concept by involving Barry’s sudden fascination with acting, and so I hope my complaints are misguided and it will deliver on the enormous amount of potential it originally showed. I just wish after this first episode of the new season that I was convinced it will do so, but unfortunately just yet I can’t say that I am.