Until happening upon it by complete chance, I’d never heard of Mr Inbetween. So how did I come across it? YouTube. Yes it’s algorithm can be erratic and the frequency of adverts during videos – you fucking horrible grasping scum – has made using the platform somewhat of a chore. Going down a YouTube rabbit hole with autoplay enabled, as a means of discovering new music, is still worth it, whereas accidently going down a trans/gender debate one yields astonishment, then antipathy and ultimately boredom. But YouTube’s capriciousness did me a solid for a change – it suggested I watch a video of two scenes from Mr Inbetween titled “Ray’s Porno”.
What a reward it’s been. Thanks to the uploader for selecting an intriguing video title to rope me in. Funny as “Ray’s Porno” was, what it doesn’t offer, or prepare you for, is a full flavour of the show. Ray’s everyday reality, which the show’s title references, flits between two extremes. At home he’s a forty-something divorcee with a pre-teen daughter and cares for a brother suffering from advancing motor neuron disease. Being an ex-soldier Ray believes in conflict resolution where appropriate and setting a ‘fair’ price for services rendered. This comes in exceptionally handy when moonlighting as muscle for his drug dealing and money lending boss Freddy, who owns the gentleman’s club Ray works at as a bouncer.
We soon discover that the boundary between the genial Ray and ruthless Ray is slight. Ray, for the most part, exudes a level of calm which is an artifice honed for the self-preservation of his normal existence and to sequester those who occupy it from ever witnessing his menacing side. When Ray’s aggression transcends his composure its suddenness is jarring and nobody can be left with any doubt how dangerous he truly is. One example stands out, after taking his daughter and one of her friends shopping, his daughter’s friend is abducted and Ray, to put it mildly, goes berserk, but with a relentless focus, driving around at manic speeds and threatening people with machine guns.
What some people may find disquieting is, ala Dexter Morgan, after spending enough time in Ray’s company, you begin to justify his actions, because the violence meted out is often propitiate. Child kidnappers and human traffickers get chopped up, rival gangs who try to gun Ray down for a measly thirty grand have it coming, while gobby little twats get a crack round the jaw or are briefly incapacitated by a swift kick to the bollocks or kneecap.
It’s hard for most us, with our sheltered lives, to tell just how realistic the regularity of Ray’s criminal interactions and deeds are. Perhaps there truly is a sub-culture in Australia, and other places, with this many gangsters, idiot hired guns, disloyal bikers, neurotic kingpins, hyper-aggressive male youths roaming the streets and petty thieves.
And it’s the only quibble I have with this terrific bit of telly, Ray has a knack, or the misfortune, to cross paths with so many scumbags, who, in most situations, make conflict an inevitability. In one scene some lad smacks the wing mirror off Ray’s car after being admonished by Ray for crossing in front of him. Two things here; one, it was unfortunate for the fella that it was Ray Shoesmith and not some weedy office admin sort (there is more of the latter), but that wouldn’t have been an interaction suited to the episode’s narrative purpose, and two, if I was nearly ran over, or nearly ran someone over, I’d be so mortified that I’d flee the scene and want the earth to swallow me up.
Positioning Ray as a morally cognisant anti-hero in this criminal world of venal and despicable characters can be construed as advocating the need for his sort to punish and discourage them from bullying vulnerable folk. However the nuance in the writing and performance from the central character, and what his journey costs him, infers the opposite. Ray’s clearly dis-satisfied that this is how things are, that his life experiences have necessitated he adopt a nihilistic attitude towards violence and his own mortality.
Mr Inbetween incorporates a tragi-comedic tone, which, when organised crime and suburbia overlap, mocks a modern (increasingly virtual) society in the thrall of safe spaces, preferred pro-nouns and emotional support dogs, and its aversion to the perceived threat posed by men of Ray’s unapologetic forcefulness, construing him as inherently toxic and the threat of force as always unnecessary. The disdain which seethes out of Ray in attempting to navigate through the snobbery and timidness of such a limiting indoctrination, which he construes as a lack of respect and tact, only hardens his impression that there’s no acceptance or place for men of his sort. But rejection is always hard, even if, in Ray’s case, you have contempt for the source. It’s indicative of the sociological formula for a kind of anger that festers and can lead to destructive forms of resentment.
While aggressive dickheads get bashed by Ray, the childish eccentricities of two supporting characters, when juxtaposed with Ray’s fearless stoicism, patronises the typical forms of adult male puerility and frivolousness. There’s Gaz, Ray’s best mate, who trades in guns, has a mock Scarface poster of that “say hello to my little friend” scene with his face superimposed on it and stupidly married a prudish Russian when he has porn addiction, or perhaps he has the latter due to the former. Freddy, despite being a ruthless fixer, has a crippling fear of even non-poisonous spiders, a gambling problem, and a trophy wife who walks all over him.
Mr Inbetween manages to be funny, poignant, glib and serious about its social commentaries all at the same time. Throw in dramatic arcs which fit snugly into each half-hour episode and it makes it one of the most engrossing shows I’ve watched in a while. With only three seasons (by design), I binge watched the whole of Mr Inbetween in the space of a week. Just as Ray regrets being versed in the language of violence and how these impulses dog him and limits how he can live his life, I too regret that Mr Inbetween was so fleeting for me.