“I wouldn’t say I enjoy hitting people,” Ray Shoesmith explains. “If I hit somebody, I generally got a pretty good reason.”
Ray, the main character of the Australian drama Mr Inbetween, which debuts Tuesday on FX (I’ve seen all six episodes) is many things: divorced father to elementary schooler Brit (Chika Yasumura), new boyfriend to Ally (Brooke Satchwell), friend to Gary (Justin Rosniak) and caretaker to his ill brother Bruce (Nicholas Cassim). Ray is also a killer for hire, continuing 2018 TV’s fascination with oddball assassins (see: HBO’s Barry, BBC America’s Killing Eve). Often, when he hits someone, his “pretty good reason” is that he’s being paid to do it by his boss Freddy (Justified‘s Damon Herriman, finally appearing on FX with his native accent). But Ray also fancies himself the guardian angel for his loved ones, and at times for society at large.
Ray is played by the show’s creator, Scott Ryan, who introduced the character in a mockumentary called The Magician. Ryan has a striking and compulsively watchable physical presence: bald, angular and utterly calm even when he’s preparing to lay a beating on two young punks who ruined his little girl’s ice cream cone. That unflappable demeanor (think: a young Mike Ehrmantraut) suffuses most of the show’s action, as well as its periodic forays into macabre comedy. There’s a bit in the first of this week’s two installments (FX will air two episodes back-to-back over a three-week period, starting whenever each new episode of Mayans MC finishes) where one of Ray’s buddies asks him to claim ownership of a kinky porn video his wife found, and the laughs come entirely because of how unruffled Ryan looks in the middle of this very loud humiliation.
The series (directed by Nash Edgerton, brother of Joel) is part of this year’s welcome trend of half-hour dramas, which includes Starz’s Vida, Facebook Watch’s Sorry For Your Loss and Amazon’s upcoming Homecoming. This one is slightly more comedic than the others, but for the most part it demonstrates the value of not overextending what’s a pretty slight story. There’s a bit of a serialized arc about Ray running afoul of a rival gang tied to Gary’s brother-in-law, but for the most part, Mr Inbetween is a character study of a guy who’s largely at peace with hurting and killing people for a living. It’s a version of Barry where the protagonist doesn’t need to take an acting class to understand the repercussions of what he does.
Ryan can’t quite decide if he’s judging his character’s behavior or celebrating it. Ray winds up in anger management class in the middle of the season, and there’s a suggestion that he might have to more directly confront who he is. But there are plenty of other scenes that conform to the Awesome Killers Are Awesome mode of storytelling. That indecisiveness puts Mr Inbetween a notch below Barry and Killing Eve, but it’s an entertaining — and mercifully concise — watch.