Why Bill Hader’s ‘Barry’ Is Such a Winner for HBO

When the first ratings came in for Barry, HBO executives probably had mixed feelings about Bill Hader’s hitman comedy. The show captured slightly over 1 million live viewers, putting it just ahead of Divorced, Sarah Jessica Parker’s relationship dramedy.

However, after people got to know Barry and its collection of characters, the numbers started coming back strong. Well before the end of the season, the network saw it had a bona fide hit on its hands. (The Season Two renewal came after the third episode.)

So what made a show starring a muttering, tortured Hader that’s filled with murder so popular? For starters, Hader’s ability to be likable while building up a significant body-count has to rank high on the list. (Fans of In Bruges have seen this before.)

But Barry’s supporting characters, from Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) to Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) make Barry something truly special. As Season Two kicks off tonight on HBO, here’s a look at everything that’s working for the Emmy-winning show.

Gangsters who are nearly as incompetent as the aspiring actors

Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau was a highlight right from the start of ‘Barry.’ | HBO

There’s a lot of comedy to mine in amateur theater, which is something Waiting for Guffman nailed so well. In Barry, we get a look at aspiring actors getting their start in the film capital of the world.

Some, like Barry’s love interest Sally (Sarah Goldberg), occasionally manage to avoid being terrible. But that’s not something many students in the Cousineau (Winkler) workshop can claim. Acting like a bad actor is no small feat, and Hader’s supporting cast does it well.

Of course, the show benefits greatly from Winkler’s portrayal of Cousineau right from the opening episode. If you need to find someone so obsessed with his own brand he’s collecting acting-class fees after a student’s death, Gene Cousineau is your man.

However, the professional criminals (especially the Chechens) can’t claim much more competence. Whether Hank (Carrigan) is leaving a video camera at the scene of a multiple-homicide or getting his entire crew killed out of politeness, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the bumbling of all sides.

3 Emmys and 4.4 million viewers per show for ‘Barry’

The Chechen gang fronted by Noho Hank and Goran has been less than competent. | HBO

How successful did Barry become by the end of Season One? An average of 4.4 million viewers watched the show across its eight episodes. That was an incredibly strong showing, one that makes it seem impossible that the show would not be back for a Season Three (barring a disaster, of course).

Along with the big audience, critics loved the show as well. Meanwhile, Barry scored three Golden Globe nominations and 13 Primetime Emmy nods. Hader (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy) and Winkler (Outstanding Supporting Actor) both won Emmys, as did the sound-mixing team.

While we’ve seen the first episode of Season Two, we feel no urge to weigh in and spoil anything for Barry fans. Suffice to say the show is back to doing what it does so well (maybe more smoothly than it did in Season One).

HBO has a crowd-pleasing and excellent comedy on its hands. In the year Veep is going off the air, that’s exactly what fans need.

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