Performer of the Week: Bill Hader

THE PERFORMER | Bill Hader

THE SHOW Barry

THE EPISODE | “Limonada” (May 1, 2022)

THE PERFORMANCE | The first two seasons of HBO’s hitman comedy were a bit conflicted about Hader’s killer-for-hire Barry Berkman and whether he’s a good person or not. But in Season 3, Barry has taken a Walter White-esque turn to the dark side, and Hader underlined that twice with permanent marker this week with a bravura performance that managed to be funny, disturbing and heartbreaking all at once.

The SNL vet still weaved a few strands of dark comedy into Barry’s story, like nonchalantly serving a fast-food lunch to Gene while he’s being held captive in the trunk of Barry’s car. But the laughs faded when Barry frantically barged into Sally’s production office, asking her to give Gene a part on her TV show. When Sally said no, Hader’s brow furrowed and his energy darkened; Barry slapped himself in the head repeatedly before exploding: “If I don’t do this, I don’t live!” Hader brought a terrifying physicality to the scene as Barry pinned Sally up against the wall and screamed right in her face: “I need you to do this for me now. Now!”

An unshaven Barry, looking like he hasn’t slept in days, then begged another casting director to give Gene a job, but she liked Barry’s intense energy instead — “You kind of have a not-present, Joaquin Phoenix thing” — and gave him a coveted audition. Hader did let some genuine joy come into Barry’s voice when he told Sally he booked the role, but he snapped back into killer mode when he saw Gene had escaped from his trunk. Hader normally seems like such a nice, approachable guy, but he was positively chilling when Gene came home to find Barry happily playing games with his beloved grandson. Barry flatly informed Gene that if he doesn’t comply, Barry will kill his family — but then he got vulnerable, choking the words out through tears, “I love you. Mr. Cousineau. Do you love me?” When Gene silently agreed, Barry begged like a child: “Can you say it?” And then even that wasn’t enough: “Can you say it again?”

The line between comedy and drama is so thin here — at times, we’re not even sure if we should be laughing or not — but Hader dances along that line like an expert circus performer. His stunning work on Barry this season is showing us a man at the very end of his rope… and that end is fraying quickly.

HONORABLE MENTIONOzark spent much of its four seasons dancing around questions regarding Wendy Byrde’s sanity — or lack thereof. But the series’ penultimate episode, “Mud,” cleared up any possible ambiguity about the character’s lucidity when Wendy waltzed into a psychiatric hospital and declared, “My current situation as I see it is I am not well mentally.” The long overdue epiphany freed Laura Linney up to deliver a immensely entertaining, go-for-broke performance that left us in stitches — her Karen-powered interactions with the hospital’s intake team repeatedly struck dark comedy gold. But the real surprise was that the episode, and Linney’s work in it, also left us feeling — and, we can’t believe we’re going to say this — a twinge of empathy toward the self-righteous brother-killer. We said a twinge!

HONORABLE MENTION | We’ll admit it: We weren’t in love with Miguel at This Is Us‘ start. But after six seasons of Jon Huertas‘ indefatigable portrayal — including the brilliant performance that capped his run on Tuesday — we’re fully #TeamMiguel. How could we not be, given the love and care Huertas wove into all of Miguel’s interactions with Rebecca, especially those after she was diagnosed with dementia? The Castle alum’s crowning achievement was his character’s sit-down with Kevin, Kate and Rebecca, during which Miguel resisted relinquishing his ailing wife’s care. The anguish on Huertas’ face was so plain, the tremor in his voice so natural that it made a heartfelt impression — even on this five-hanky-a-week sobfest. We probably didn’t deserve Miguel, but Huertas deserves all of the accolades coming his way.

HONORABLE MENTION | In Outer Range‘s penultimate episode, Autumn’s unhinged mission to get closer to Royal’s supernatural land gave Imogen Poots the perfect stage to strut her stuff. As her character continued playing puppet master in the Abbott/Tillerson drama, the actress employed puppy dog eyes and a soft hippie spirit to quell Rhett’s nerves and get closer to the dangerous Billy. She sold her character as the calm in a very hellish storm, and it worked. But in her standout scene, Poots acted solo, staring into a mirror and repeating an unsettling mantra about altars and portals. “I am the mother of undying time,” she recited, maniacally unleashing as if she was possessed. Were we looking at a sociopath in the making? A future time-traveling cult leader? Chalk it up to another of Range‘s many mysteries. But what we are certain about: Poots’ work as the series’ most cunning adversary was divine.

Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!

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