TV and film have long been fascinated with the inner lives of spies, assassins, and people who otherwise operate underground and out of sight. Untangling the possible motivations someone might have to live such a life, not to mention carry out startling and sometimes downright horrific acts, provides so much narrative catnip that hardly a month goes by without a new variation on the same theme. 2018’s TV has already had a couple sterling examples in HBO’s “Barry” and BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” both of which manage to depict the lives of assassins in ways we’ve never seen before — which is, after so many other attempts, a real feat.
So if you’re going to try your hand at a hitman story, it’s on you to come up with something more interesting than the many dozens we’ve seen before. “Mr Inbetween,” unfortunately, doesn’t.
FX’s new half-hour drama — an Australian collaboration based on Scott Ryan’s 2005 film “The Magician” — follows Ray Shoesmith (Ryan), a sullen hired hand whose job can entail anything from extortion to intimidation, kidnapping to murder. When he’s not blindly carrying out orders for his oily boss Freddy (Damon Herriman), he’s caring for his young daughter (Chika Yasumura) and disabled brother (Nicholas Cassim), both of whom are more than capable of throwing his deadpan humor right back at him. (Yasumura and Cassim, both bringing something new to the show, appropriately steal scenes whenever they get them.)
Eventually, Ray eases into a lowkey relationship with Ally (Brooke Satchwell), a dry paramedic who struggles to reconcile Ray’s general reticence with the sporadic flashes of anger he gives into when encountering something he finds stupid. And that’s about the extent of “Mr Inbetween’s” introspection on what makes Ray tick. He doesn’t necessarily enjoy the sensation of beating someone to a pulp, he tells the anger management support group he never wanted to join, but if he does it, he’s “generally got a pretty good reason.” As far as Ray sees it, the world is full of jerks who occasionally need a reminder that they, too, are going to end up six feet under whether they like it or not — and that that day could come much sooner than they think. Checks, meet balances.
All of this makes sense. Hitman stories have leaned on exactly this kind of narrative for decades. But neither “Mr Inbetween’s” story nor Ryan’s portrayal of this determinedly laconic character have much urgency to them. That moment of clarity in Ray’s support group, for example, doesn’t happen until four episodes into the six-episode season. Yes, the narrative supports the revelation; it’s not exactly surprising that Ray fancies himself the best judge, jury, and executioner his community’s got. But by the time the show acknowledges it, it’s already too hard to understand why Ray’s story is apparently so singular that we need to follow it at all.
Drama; 30 mins. Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 on FX.
Cast: Scott Ryan, Damon Herriman, Justin Rosniak, Brooke Satchwell, Jackson Tozer, Nicholas Cassim, Chika Yasumura, and Matt Nable.
Crew: Executive producers: Scott Ryan, Nash Edgerton, Jason Burrows.