Bill Hader makes his directing debut at SXSW with the HBO TV series “Barry”

Andrea Tinning

Some T.V shows are meant to be comical breaks from reality while others are designed to make you think. A few even aim to jar their audiences with gore and suspense. “Barry” does it all in one.

Written and directed by SNL veteran Bill Hader, “Barry” tells the story of a socially awkward and depressed hitman who discovers his passion for acting after following one of his targets into a theatre class. Two of the eight episodes in the HBO series premiered at SXSW. Hader as well as co- executive producer Alec Berg answered questions after the screening.

Hader is known for his oddball and hilarious characters, but lately the comedian has waded into more serious waters acting in dramatic films such as the indie movie Skeleton Twins, where he starred opposite Kristen Wiig. Regardless of the genre, one thing that makes Hader different from other performers is his ability to incorporate his loud personality to any role, and Barry is no exception.

As Hader and Berg were brainstorming concepts for HBO, Hader said the premise for “Barry” came after a series of failed ideas.

“Kind of out of frustration I said, ‘what if I was a hitman?’” Hader said. Berg originally wasn’t on board with it since a hired killer comes with a packaged stereotype, but from the get-go, Hader said he had a different character in mind. “It would be me — me, Bill — as a hitman.”

The show is a harmonious balance of dramatic, high-stakes moments and goofy situational comedy. The villains of the show are a gang of Chechens. (If you’re not an expert on geography, that’s the Russian Republic of Chechnya.) They capture Barry’s partner and threaten to torture him unless Barry works for them. They stick a steel bar into his mouth and threaten to knock his teeth out, until one of their wives comes in and complains that they’re being too loud and interrupting their pre-teen daughter’s sleep over. Each scene is a well crafted balance of raw emotion and comedy, making for an interesting and well-paced narrative.

Everything about the series is portrayed as closely to authentic as possible, from the acting to the violence. Hader said that planning the show, one of the things he wanted to make sure of was that the gore seemed realistic.

“We try with all of the violence to make it very real,” Berg said. “It’s  not like John Wick, slow motion, flying through the air stuff. We talked about shooting things like they’re security camera footage.”

The violence looks real, and the acting feels real, which is impressive considering how almost half the story takes place in a theatre class and the actors have to act as if they are bad at acting. The acting-ception is hilarious in and of itself; we watch cringe-worthy performances, like a botched profanity-laden monologue, and thoughtful, witty, depictions of what it's like to try to make it as an actor in Los Angeles.

“Barry” has yet to be renewed for another season, but if anything, Hader has proven himself as a multi-talented comedian, actor, and now, director.

Rating: 5/5 stars