Henry Winkler is so good on Barry. I’m not the first person to say that. The longtime TV staple won an Emmy for playing Gene Coustineau. In the third season, Winkler is doing arguably the best work of his career, certainly dramatically. What’s impressive is not just that Winkler is showing dramatic chops. He became famous on the sitcom Happy Days, but he wasn’t even necessarily good on that show.
Arthur Fonzarelli was the breakout character on Happy Days. He became the star of the show, effectively getting the character of Chuck Cunningham written off. When Ron Howard left Happy Days, the show continued, because they had The Fonz. Winkler became famous as Fonzie, but he is not actually giving that good of a performance. Now, he’s not bad, and the writing and directing plays a role. That being said, I’ve watched a lot of TV. I’ve seen sitcoms from the ‘70s, the ‘60s, and even the ‘50s. There were good performances in those. Winkler? He’s doing passable, broad work.
He has the iconic mannerisms. The “ayyyyy,” the thumbs, the hitting the jukebox. His leather jacket is iconic. He did he thing where he couldn’t say he was wrong. The Fonz had a lot of business to do, but the performance never stuck out to me. Winkler is not bad, but nothing he did really showed impressive comedic chops, let alone acting chops. In fact, it wasn’t until Winkler was on Arrested Development that I ever really thought he was funny. On that show, he’s delightful, though in that case a lot of it is the writing. Winkler does live up to that writing, though.
On Barry, the writing is strong, of course. However, so is Winkler’s work. This is not a case of a guy going from excelling at comedy to excelling at drama. It’s not a case of a guy who was once a great actor being revitalized late in his career. This is a case of a well-known actor getting to do substantive, commendable work for the first time ever, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s not remember Winkler for his work as the Fonz. Barry is where Winkler finally was able to show what he can do. It just happened decades into his career.