Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Barry foregrounds Hollywood satire just as the dominoes collapse

Sarah Goldberg as Sally
Sarah Goldberg as Sally
Image: HBO
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Barry generally tends to let its Hollywood satire exist in the margins. Its main comedic targets are actorly desperation and amateur theater, both of which ultimately privilege individual behavior over industry machinations. Yet, the specter of Hollywood overshadows everything, not just because the series features Los Angeles actors longing to make it big, but also it’s status as a “dream factory.” All someone like Barry, a man completely mired in violence and death, wants to do is to escape his present and entertain people in the process. What better way than to become a professional actor?


At the same time, Barry has never really been a careerist. He generally prefers acting in the low-stakes environment of Gene’s class to chasing some brass ring. That kind of professional validation isn’t even on Barry’s radar. But with his relaxed demeanor, his insider ignorance, and, yes, his height, he obviously falls ass backwards into a plum opportunity when one of the Michael’s sets him up with an audition for a big Jay Roach movie on a complete lark. Not only that, Roach and renowned casting director Allison Jones will be in the room for it. Barry’s laissez faire attitude combined with his absurd luck astounds Gene, who has struggled to get his foot in the door for years, as well as Sally, who has fought for every (minor) professional victory. They’ve been chasing this dumb dream for years and Barry stumbled into it without knowing that a “feature” is the same thing as a movie.

Written by Liz Sarnoff, “The Audition” moves Barry’s Hollywood satire front and center in order to develop Sally’s industry woes and bring Gene’s personal story showcase down the homestretch. After Lindsay sees Sally’s piece, she and the Michael’s set up a meeting with producer Aaron Ryan (David Douglas), the man behind such commercially viable works like Divorced Women and Prison Teens. When Sally meets with him, however, it turns out he wants to capitalize off her domestic abuse history by casting her in Payback Ladies, a faux-empowerment series about a team of women who plot to kill their violent spouses. It’s the type of show where the women are “bad ass” and attractive but have no inner life or grounded complications of any kind. (The tagline is, “It’s that time of the month…for revenge!”) Sally, offended by the very nature of Ryan’s idea, turns it down in the room, which infuriates the Michael’s and disappoints Lindsay. While Sally is in no position to turn down work, she also shouldn’t have to exploit her trauma to play a broad caricature.

As much as Barry plays Sally’s strident attitude for laughs, her strong-willed personality is never treated like an afterthought. Her unbroken two-and-a-half minute ranting monologue to Barry runs the gamut of human emotion—pride, arrogance, rage, jealousy, compassion, etc.—and while one could chafe on her self-righteousness, almost everything she says is valid. Her piece is vulnerable and that could have potentially frightening blowback from strangers let alone Sam. It’s not fair that she could become a de facto spokesperson for abuse survivors even though her story is one of many. It’s certainly ridiculous that Barry has achieved more professional success in one day by being a tall white guy in the right place at the right time than she has in her whole career. The series never once makes apologies for Sally’s delivery or principles, and in the end, they reward her for it. Lindsay decides to move the entire showcase to a 400-seat theater that will be packed with industry folks who could potentially respond to Sally’s work.

Barry has maintained a consistently dark tone this season, even at its funniest, so it’s a nice bit of modulation to see it indulge in some relatively lighter fare. But from the moment when Gene calls Barry to inform him that private detective “Kenneth Goulet” wants to take a look at the cabin, Sarnoff and director Alec Berg throw you right back into the series’ deep end. It’s upsetting to hear Barry quickly fold over the phone, telling Fuches he’ll do whatever he says as long as he doesn’t hurt Gene. It’s heartbreaking to watch Fuches string kind, pitiful Gene along so that he can show him the worst thing imaginable just to get back at Barry. There’s maybe no better encapsulation of Barry than our hero being called into audition for the character of J.T., a swim instructor who vengefully shits in a pie and then ultimately eats it, right when he finds out that Fuches plans to blow his cover. (The icing on the cake is that Roach and Jones are impressed by his distracted nonchalance…and that he’s 6’2”.)

At least that’s what it looks like Fuches plans to do until he gets up there and Gene waxes poetic about his relationship with Barry. “He was like a plastic bag blowing in the wind. But together we turned that around,” Gene says with gentle pride, which sets Fuches’ teeth on edge. After all, Fuches made Barry. He was his advisor and father figure first, he gave a directionless kid some purpose, and now this acting teacher with altruistic motives wants to take over the role? Fuches, the devil in plain sight, can’t stand to see one of his minions be happy and free on his watch.


So he does the unthinkable. Soon, the two of them are standing in front of Moss’ car while Gene falls into shock. Fuches calls the cops as Gene, confesses to the murder, and hints at suicide. He opens the trunk to reveal Moss’ body. (It’s a nice touch that Berg never actually shows Moss above the knees, as if that image was only meant for Gene’s eyes.) Then, Fuches cocks his gun and points it at Gene’s head.

All the while Barry is running to stop them. He’s outrun the inevitable for so long that he doesn’t seem to realize it was too late the minute Fuches entered Gene’s orbit. It’s important to tell the truth. There’s no telling where it takes you.


Stray observations

  • Didn’t get to talk about the fate of the Chechen army: Esther and the Burmese gang drive NoHo Hank and his team in a bus to the middle of nowhere and burn them alive. While Hank reveals his fundamentally benevolent nature, Mayrbek busts everyone out and kills a bunch of the Burmese. Unfortunately, Hank has subsequently lost the trust and faith of the army and Mayrbek usurps him as their leader.
  • Give it up for Anthony Carrigan, who imbues every half-broken turn of phrase with NoHo Hank’s sweet personality. He’s nice! He’s polite! He’s optometrist by nature!
  • The single funniest joke this is week is Hader’s delivery of the name “Jay Roach.” He either says the name like it’s one word or places too much emphasis on “Jay.”
  • “You say, ‘Oh we’re a bunch of a swim instructors.’ That’s the title! They can’t cut that!”
  • “Whose cock did you have to suck in a former life?”
  • “But because I did not have courage to stand up and be my true self, a nice guy, and instead chose pants-on-fire existence, we are all on the barbecue bus.”
  • “Wow, you really…underplayed that.”
  • “Hey, Ike! You shit bird! You wanna little pieeeee?”

Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.