Mr Inbetween (FX, Tuesdays, 11/10C) is an Australian ‘indie’ TV series about a working class hit man who’s also a good friend and devoted dad. He’s taking a court-mandated anger management course but doesn’t really think he has any anger management issues (he’s wrong!).
Creator, writer and star Scott Ryan has created a winning little black comedy here.
Ray (Ryan) is not the kind of hit man we’re used to seeing. He’s solidly working class and, while very good at his job, lives in a lower middle-class neighborhood and has friends and colleagues who would be out of place at any kind of semi-posh gathering.
He works for Freddy (Damon Herriman, Justified), a strip club owner, father figure and one of the few people, family aside, whom Ray wants to please (though being Aussie blokes, they certainly don’t show much in the way of an emotional connection).
He’s in anger management for bashing a guy who disrespected him, but around his eight-year old daughter, Brittany (Chika Yasamura), he’s a bit of a pushover – though his relationship with his ex-wife, Jacinta (Natalie Tran), is not quite cordial at best.
He drops by to visit his brother, Bruce (Nicholas Cassim), usually with Brittany – who charges them a dollar whenever they swear (if they ever pay up, she’s got an instant college fund). Bruce has a motor neuron disease (he calls it MD, so muscular dystrophy?) and can’t get around at all.
One gets the sense that Ray and Brittany’s visits are one of the few pleasures in his life. One also gets the sense that Bruce might have been in Ray’s line of work before things started going to crap for him.
When a friend gets bashed and robbed, he methodically goes about making sure that won’t happen again (nope! No anger management issues at all…). He is intensely loyal to those he cares about and a hurricane of hurt to those who would cause them harm – or to anyone who’s earned an introduction from Freddy.
The six-episode first season Mr Inbetween (there is no period after the Mr – for whatever reason) introduces Ray, his boss, his friends and family and a number of antagonists who range from at least reasonably smart to incredibly stupid (or at the very least not very perceptive).
While taking his dog, Boof, out to a local park to play, he meets a lovely dog owner named Ally (Brooke Satchwell). He completely fails to recognize that she likes him – it takes a second meet cute, while she’s at work (she’s a paramedic) for him to get her number.
Their relationship – like that with his daughter – is one of the few in his life that don’t have some dark undercurrent.
The thing about Mr Inbetween is that Ray is mostly happy and comfortable where he is in life.
He’s got a job that pays well enough; he’s got a beautiful daughter whom he worships (and who worships him); he has friends and colleagues who respect him, and he’s healthy.
What’s not to like?
The problem is that his job requires the very thing that got him stuck in that anger management course – violence (usually, but not always, of the fatal variety).
When someone bashes and rips off one of your best friends, what are you supposed to do?
When someone sends people after you, what are you supposed to do?
Plus, there’s the whole issue about trusting the guy who gives you jobs to get the target right. Right?
Mr Inbetween is both a very dark crime comedy and a serious character study. Ryan’s writing is extremely good, and he has, smartly, given himself a role that requires a certain specific range with which he’s comfortable – while giving other featured actors room to explore a wider range.
All six episodes are directed by Nash Edgerton (brother of Joel) and he does a terrific job of threading a number of plot and character arcs together for maximum impact, whether emotionally or action-wise.
Mr Inbetween is one of those weird little oddities, like Comrade Detective, that is something delightful and unexpected.
I hope there’s a season two.
Final Grade: A-