This Is the Most Anticipated New Premium Series of The Year

— January 18, 2018

Bill Harris’s update from the second half of TCA looks at specialty series garnering series buzz

By BILL HARRIS Special to

Bill Hader stars in HBO’s BARRY. (Photo: HBO)

PASADENA, Calif. - Actors always want to be musicians, and musicians always want to be actors. This is nothing new. The grass is always greener on the other side, that kind of thing. But until the new series BARRY came along, I genuinely never had considered if any "hit men" dream of being actors. And yes, by "hit men" we're talking about assassins for hire. That weird scenario is the very premise of BARRY, which is not a documentary about Barack Obama in his youth, as I initially thought it might be. Rather, it's a scripted series starring Bill Hader about a "hit man" who accidentally gets drawn into an acting class, and it actually awakens an element of human feeling in him that he never has experienced before. As the Winter 2018 Television Critics Association tour comes to a close, BARRY stands out as the most talked-about show among reporters here. And there are a few reasons for that. First of all, critics tend to like Bill Hader, both professionally and personally. The SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumnus is just one of those people who is respected for his work and also interacts well with the media. For example, actors often are shaken when they come onto the stage for panels at TCA, because the critics don't clap. It's a long-standing tradition. But actors are accustomed to applause, and the silence can rattle them. But as the panel session for BARRY began, Hader used the silence for his own comic purposes. He started making loud “woo, woo” noises, as one might hear from an adoring public. Then he imitated the echoed “ahhhhhh” roar of a large crowd. And he kept going. And going. And going. The part that really cracked me up was when Hader pointed to cast-mate Henry Winkler, and the “ahhhhhh” got considerably louder. If other actors had tried something like that at TCA, it likely would have fallen flat. But with Hader, it came across as funny and the critics were charmed. They like Bill Hader. Second of all, Hader's show, BARRY, is just really unique and interesting. It's a patchwork of genres that you might not think would work together, but they do. I have to say, I've seen two episodes, and while I thought the first was stronger than the second, I definitely am keen to see more. The cable portion of the TCA event is such a mixed bag of channels and shows that it can make you dizzy, ranging from serious, to sappy, to silly, to sexy, and everything in between. While BARRY generated the most buzz, there were other cable shows that got the critics' attention, too. As far as new shows go, COUNTERPART, SUCCESSION, and KRYPTON are on the front burner. I was very intrigued by COUNTERPART, which was presented by Starz, even though it breaks one of my rules. I concluded many years ago that I was sick of seeing actors playing dual roles in TV shows and movies. But COUNTERPART sets it up in an intelligent way that I can accept, with J.K. Simmons portraying different versions of the same man. It has to do with an alternate timeline accidentally being created in an elaborate experiment during the Cold War. HBO’s SUCCESSION, meanwhile, continues to tap into the public's fascination with watching rich families fussin' and feudin'. The story focuses on the uneasy transition of power in a high-profile media family led by a patriarch named Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox. A few years back, Jesse Armstrong – the creator, showrunner and executive producer of SUCCESSION – wrote a screenplay titled MURDOCH, about media mogul Rupert Murdoch. It would be natural to assume there is a lot of DNA from the MURDOCH project in SUCCESSION. But Armstrong insisted he drew on a lot of families to formulate the fictional Roys, including the British royal family, with Prince Charles still waiting to succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth. On the sci-fi side of things, from SyFy, KRYPTON is a Superman prequel, taking us back to the doomed planet to follow the adventures of Superman's grandfather Seg-El. He's played by Cameron Cuffe, who definitely looks the part. As for returnees, two shows that continue to engage critics are SHOWTIME’s BILLIONS and, of course, THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Keeping with the theme that we were just talking about – rich people struggling and behaving badly – BILLIONS co-creator and executive producer Brian Koppelman was asked why white-collar crime is considered so deplorable by average people. “It's privilege,” said Koppelman, whose series features Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Maggie Siff, and Malin Akerman in starring roles. “It's people that don't have to, right?” “We can all understand, if not excuse, many crimes committed by people in desperate places. But not people who have privilege and the world at their fingertips.” Finally, speaking of having the world at their fingertips, it's always fun at TCA when shows have panel sessions before their debut, then they become big hits, and then they return for panel sessions heading into their second seasons. That's what happened with THE HANDMAID’S TALE, and executive producer Warren Littlefield went out of his way to thank the reporters in the room for their critical support of the show. “We all want to say the reason we've had such success is because of you guys,” Littlefield said. “You guys gave us a Klieg light, and you kind of let the world know that they ought to watch this thing, and we're really grateful for that.” Okay ... I had to look up the term “Klieg light.” Apparently it's a special lamp used in filmmaking. Sorry, I've been doing this for a very long time, but I'm just not a techie. Regarding the story in Season 2 of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, series star Elisabeth Moss said, “It is a dark season. I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1, if that's possible.” As much as I'm looking forward to more darkness, maybe we should fire up a few extra Klieg lights, just in case it gets too scary. @billharris_tv Editor’s note: BARRY and SUCCESSION are coming to HBO Canada later this year. COUNTERPART is currently streaming on CraveTV, and will be joined by the upcoming season of BILLIONS. KRYPTON will air in Canada on SPACE. And Season 2 of THE HANDMAID’S TALE will debut on Bravo.