TV

HBO’s ‘Barry’ Has A Secret Weapon, And His Name Is Noho Hank


HBO

It’s important to remember that none of this happens without Noho Hank. Nothing in the first season of Barry, not our deeply troubled assassin catching the acting bug, not the relationship between Barry and Sally, not the doomed relationship between Gene and Janice, none of it happens without Noho Hank and his godforsaken lipstick camera.

Go back to the premiere and see for yourself. Hank (Anthony Carrigan) made the recording of Goran’s wife with Ryan (the personal trainer who was in the acting class Barry joined), Hank brought Barry in to kill Ryan, and Hank — my dear, sweet, dimwitted Chechen man — brought the lipstick camera to the shootout with Barry when everything went left. That’s how Barry got tangled up with the Chechen mob, the acting class, and the cops. Because of Noho Hank. Without him, Barry is just a show about a depressed hitman who lives in Cleveland and just gets more depressed as time goes on. And, I mean, that could be a show, too, I guess. A very different show. One that is probably not as good as the show Barry has become. My point here is that, if you enjoy Barry, you have Noho Hank to thank for it.

(I suppose, if we’re being very technical about all of this, you could backtrack it even further and say you have Ryan the Trainer to thank for the show because his affair led to Hank making the recording. But if you do that, where do you stop? Do we have to credit Ryan’s fictional parents for conceiving him? Do we credit Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers for creating the America the show takes place in? A line has to be drawn somewhere to prevent us all from going insane. Plus, I really wanted to write about Noho Hank. So here we are.)

So that’s one point in Noho Hank’s favor. Here’s another:

HBO


This is also from the premiere. It’s the first time we meet him and the moment I fell in love with the character. Hank is a study in not judging a book by its cover. Here you have this bald, tattooed, high-ranking organized crime figure, one who has presumably ordered and carried out many murders and other serious felonies, and he’s just an absolute sweetheart of a man. Yes yes, you will discuss the assassinations, but not until he’s offered you a submarine sandwich and a juice box. Manners first, then murders.

His rise to power throughout the first season was one of my favorite character arcs for any character on television last year. Barry can get dark at times. Really, really dark. It’s something I like about the show, actually, the way it leans into the effects of war on the human brain and the comment it makes on feeling stuck in a job you hate just because you’re pretty good at it. The scene from season one in which Barry realizes he has to kill a close friend who got in over his head… that was brutal. It’s stuck with me since then in a way that is both upsetting and impressive. It’s also why it’s good to cut the tension sometimes with a mobster who sends texts like these.

HBO
HBO

Of course Hank texts Bitmoji. Even if we never had proof of it, even if the show never gave of visual evidence or mentioned it in passing, you’d know. If someone came up to you today like, “Hey, do you think Noho Hank from Barry uses Bitmoji in crime texts?,” first of all, it would be weird, but second, you’d definitely say yes. It’s perfect.

It’s also why he’s so necessary on the show, especially now, as we creep our way into season two. Barry is dealing with some real stuff right now. Gene, the acting teacher played by a truly magnificent Henry Winkler, is dealing with some real stuff, too, what with his girlfriend, a cop who figured out Barry’s real identity, presumably dead at Barry’s hands. Things are not great right now. The audience needs a release when that kind of stuff piles up, a way to let a little air out of the narrative balloon before it pops. One way to do that? Have your freshly-minted Chechen crime boss show up at a Lululemon in a Ted McGinley wig to order a hit on a different crime boss.

HBO

Boom. Tension relieved.

It is a tricky dance, though, I’ll give you that. You run the risk of turning him into a cartoon character who has been plopped into what’s almost becoming a bleak drama in spots. This could get a little too-Poochie-by-half down the line if they’re not careful about it. We’re not there yet, though. Not even close. Noho Hank is the greatest. Barry is a completely different show without him and his smiles and his relentlessly chipper attitude as he goes about dark, dark business. He’s a hero.

And guess what: He almost never got the chance to be any of that. As Bill Hader told us in an interview last week, Hank died in the original version of the pilot. He didn’t survive the shootout with Barry that was recorded on the lipstick camera. But, according to Hader, after seeing Carrigan in the role, they changed course, saying “We’d be insane to kill that guy. He’s so funny.” Correct and correct. And… familiar. Let’s hop in our time machine real quick.

The year is 2010. The series premiere of Justified ends with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) getting shot in the chest and bleeding out on a dining room floor. In the original version of the story, Boyd dies there and is never heard from again. Instead, producers look at what Goggins does with the role and decide they too would be insane to kill off a charismatic organized crime figure. Six seasons, many explosions, and thousands of haphazardly-spiked hair follicles later, Boyd Crowder went down as the best character on the whole show and one of my favorite television characters ever.

The lessons here, if I can boil them down to a list of three items, are as follows:

  • If you want to create a great television character, kill them off in your first script and then change your mind after seeing the actual performance, because it seems to be a surefire winner based on my two cherry-picked examples
  • I would really like to see a Justified/Barry crossover where Raylan Givens tracks Boyd Crowder to Los Angeles and discovers he’s teamed up with Noho Hank and the Chechen mob
  • Yes, I would like a submarine sandwich, thank you, Hank

Barry is great and Noho Hank is a huge reason for its success. Long live my sweet, felonious prince.

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