Did you know that Stephen Root, an actor with over 230 credits on his resume, has never received an Emmy nomination? Surprising, I know. But the guy who starred in “NewsRadio” and “King of the Hill” and made countless guest appearances in a slew of other TV favorites (not to mention more than a few movies) has been unrecognized in the awards game thus far. That could change this year with a primo season of “Barry” that has put his performance squarely in the spotlight.
SEE Emmy spotlight: ‘Barry’ exceeds its strong debut with a killer Season 2
The second year of HBO’s comedy series finds hitman-turned-thespian Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) dealing with the repercussions of murdering Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), who was investigating his nefarious behavior while dating his acting coach, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). Complications arise in his relationship with Monroe Fuches (Root), a family friend who trained him to become a contract killer after his tour of duty in Iraq ended.
From the beginning, it’s clear Fuches is in it for his own gain. Despite Barry’s desire to leave his life of crime behind for the stage, his mentor’s hunger for money and power keeps pulling him back in. The fact that he’s as cowardly and inept as his protege is heroic and skilled makes for quite the odd couple pairing, and Root is hilarious while playing his character’s many fumbling missteps.
Yet there’s an added dimension that reveals itself this season that makes Fuches more than just comically bumbling. Turns out he has certain paternal feelings towards Barry, which makes things difficult when Moss’s partner, Detective Loach (John Pirruccello), forces his cooperation in an investigation into her murder. He contracts the two to kill his ex-wife’s new lover, leading to an extended and surreal battle with a kung-fu master and his feral daughter in the standout bottle episode, “ronnie/lily.”
SEE The Best Comedy Actor Emmy category adores repeat winners, which is great news for Bill Hader
Things take an even uglier turn when Fuches sees Barry getting closer with Mr. Cousineau, further wounding him. Rather than spoil what happens, let’s just say that Hader and co-creator Alec Berg take this dynamic in surprising and unexpected directions, and Root relishes playing the anger, jealousy and pain lurking underneath his character’s oafish exterior.
Although Root has competed at SAG as part of the ensembles for “Barry” and “Get Out” (2017), he’s yet to receive any individual recognition for himself. Certainly his extensive list of credits, which includes his beloved role as the timid Milton in “Office Space” (1999), will help make the case for a first-time bid. Add to that his show’s rising popularity with Emmy voters (its first season reaped 13 nominations and three wins, including acting prizes for Hader and Winkler) and he just might be unstoppable.
Critics this year have praised Root’s performance as well. Jen Cheney (Vulture) singled out his work in the season finale, writing, “Root has been great in project after project after project over the years, but he’s truly exceptional here.” In his recap of “ronnie/lily,” Dom Nero (Esquire) relished the opportunity to “witness the idiosyncrasies of [Barry and Fuches’s] relationship so intimately on display for such an extended period of time.” And Melanie McFarland (Salon.com) finds that “more screen time” for the actor is a “bonus” for the season. So the real question shouldn’t be whether or not he can get nominated, but whether or not he could win.
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