As Gene Cousineau, Barry's jaded but talented acting teacher, Henry Winkler doesn't quite embody the dark side of Hollywood. He's not quite as desperate and depraved as, say, Barry (Bill Hader), but he's got his own cloud of failure and disappointment following him around.
Gene represents "the sadness of wanting to be somebody and maybe not becoming that person you want be," Winkler tells TV Guide, "so you create it in this artificial space."
As we saw in a single very telling scene in Episode 4, Gene is on the lowest rung of the acting profession. In that episode, he went on an audition for "Man in Back of Line," reading one pointless line, and probably not getting the part. Gene was not good enough to make it as an actor, so he followed that old aphorism "those who can't do, teach," and started an acting school. He's a pretty good teacher, but teaching isn't really what it's about for Gene. The acting school is a place where the needs of his ego get fulfilled. In his school, he has books with his face on them, an audience hanging on his every word, and impressional students who worship the ground he walks on. Plus, they pay.
He — and most other characters on Barry — want to be something more than what they are. Barry wants to be an actor and an artist, but he's terrible at it. His talent is killing people, but he hates it, and Episode 7 proved it's destroying whatever soul he has left. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) wants to be taken seriously as a great actress, but she isn't, so she just passes the careless cruelty the world dumps on her onto the people around her. And Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) wants to be a cool, chill dude, but he's a sociopathic Chechen gangster.
And Winkler points out that though this story takes place on the periphery of Hollywood, disappointment at how things turned out is a universal feeling. "It's not just Hollywood, it's small-town everywhere," he says. All over the world, people are not where they want to be.
If you want to watch a feel-good show, here's a link to Friends. Otherwise, Barry's Season 1 finale airs Sunday, May 13 at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.