Mr. Inbetween

5 out of 5

Created by: Scott Ryan

covers season 1 and 2

As excited as I was for Mr. Inbetween – a show wholly directed by Nash Edgerton, who’d earned my undying adoration after The Square – I gave up on it pretty early on for… lame reasons. How lame? Er, well, I couldn’t understand some of the Australian accents. Combined with what I felt was an underwhelming premise – a hitman-with-a-heart-o’-gold scenario, done in FX’s dry, half-hour comedy stylings… it was more dedication (to parse the accents) than I was apparently ready to give. Revisiting it now on a platform that has subtitles, I don’t feel too bad about my dumb ears, given that some of the captions literally say “[unintelligible],” or occasionally misinterpret some of the slang, but I do curse myself for not seeing past the surface affectations and channel association to realize what writer / creator Scott Ryan was aiming for, and what Edgerton absolutely enabled him, visually, to achieve: not a hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold, but rather just… a hitman. Full stop. A hitman who also happens to have friends, and a family. Who is dating.

Mr. Inbetween – as the title very much suggestsis still a form of heightened reality, surely, but I should’ve given more consideration to FX’s other offerings, like Better Things, in which “heightened” is a very blurry term, before making assumptions: Ryan’s show is a brilliant subversive take on what this character might actually look like if he was your neighbor, or the dude you bumped in to on the street. It may seem indulgent for Ryan to cast himself as lead Ray in a show about a seemingly unstoppable assassin, but his rather unassuming look is wholly integral to the “just another schmoe” vibe, with his wide grin the perfect nexus between goofily charming – when the show dips in to dark comedy – or threatening – when Ray’s killer instinct is enabled. That suggests that there’s a switching of gears throughout, but that’s actually the brilliance of things: there’s not. Ray the single dad and reliable buddy is the same guy who’ll cap a longtime mate for the right price. The show does mingle in a concept of morality for Ray, but it’s not an acceptably “gray” one, and as much as we like the guy, we can see where he butts up against absolutely despicable personality types. Edgerton’s and Ryan’s pacing, splitting time between humdrum daily activities and nighttime “jobs” is perfection – not done ironically or wholly juxtaposing one another, and showing how Ray can be just as threatening or friendly in either mode.

The short, six-episode first season patiently reveals the show’s non-intrustive m.o.: presenting a calm and often humorous exterior (for the show’s tone; for Ray) while his actions slowly build toward consequences. And he seems unruffled throughout, but we can pick up the occasional sideways glances or odd statements that might reveal otherwise. These consequences carry over to season two, as do those building asides. But it’s not so much that Ray is changing, we’re just coming to better understand how he functions the way he does, which makes him both more sympathetic, and more frightening. You cannot look away. You want Ray to “win,” but when his actions occasionally turn sour – win at what?

Ryan is fantastic at this, but he’s got a perfect cast backing him up, with Justin Rosniak as his bestie, Brooke Satchwell as his girlfriend, Nicholas Cassim as his brother, and perhaps the greatest highlight, the incredibly naturalistic Chika Yasumura as his daughter. Sprinkle some Damon Herriman on for flavor as Ray’s boss. And Edgerton, just as he did with The Square, never flinches from the most harsh moments, but keeps it appreciably tasteful – the harshness is in the impact, not necessarily the visuals.

Of course, as usually happens, by the time I’m catching up – on the third season – the show is in its final stretch, meaning I won’t get to experience the utter weekly joy and anxiety over what’s coming next for too much longer. But that’s okay: I suspect there will be rewatchings of this, soaking in the show’s consistency and power, and this ending this season perhaps means we get to look forward to whatever’s next for Mr. Ryan, as well as Nash.