Mr Inbetween is brilliant and nails the unease that fuels male aggression

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.

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Song Of The Day – The Jangling Man by Cleaners From Venus

From the album ‘Number Thirteen’ (1990)

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Song Of The Day – FM by Steely Dan

From the compilation album ‘A Decade Of Steely Dan’ (1978)

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The sale of Chelsea FC – a referendum on what doesn’t matter

Forest Gump winning the Best Picture Oscar in 1995 over Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption seemed scandalous at the time, and it becomes more perplexing as time passes. Despite being nauseatingly sentimental, it has moments, and lines that have attained fame, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” for instance.

Catchy, but not analogous with reality. Life constitutes a series of decisions. This only becomes destructive when the consequences create a choice between undesirable outcomes, yet you go through with it anyway. Say, selling a football club to a foreign Oligarch when the football clubs at that time were almost entirely owned by British millionaires.

Having caused a paradigm shift, and flooring the accelerator on inflation in the game, there’s little doubt the Premier League feels compelled to court wealth to maintain the façade of competitiveness they harmed irrevocably by introducing Abramovich. The only conclusion to be gleaned here is they aren’t concerned whether there is true competition, let alone that it’s fair, but profits.

This we already know. The circumstances surrounding the impending sale of Chelsea FC in the here and now should bring the question of financial regulation in football back into focus. Can English (European, even) football be saved from its obsession and servitude to wealthy ownership groups and individuals, or is Roman Abramovich’s disqualification a show trial and an exceptional event due to a confluence of rare circumstances.

The sale of Chelsea FC to Roman Abramovich nineteen years ago is the original sin, so I could do without the moral hysteria that’s motivated the UK government to act now. How Abramovich’s introduction was obsequiously lapped up in 2003 still grates, as it helped present football clubs to the claws of sovereign wealth funds as a possible means of sportswashing, leveraged buy-outs chancers (maybe they’ll move on to NFT’s instead, or is that fad over already?) and Oligarchs who have accumulated their wealth through ill-gotten gains, looking to curry favour socially and politically through excessive generosity to a football club.

Wars tend to cut through delusions and hypocrisies we might be willing to stomach in less fraught circumstances. Or so you’d like to believe. Perhaps the government of Brexit could let in more than the three hundred Ukrainian asylum seekers they have to date. That’s a more humane and necessary gesture than fucking Abramovich off and protecting Chelsea as a “cultural asset”, but, similar to Putin’s facelift, a vote winner the former is not. Better three hundred than nothing I suppose, but the meagre number also arouses suspicions that they’re prepared to do the bare minimum to disentangle London, specifically the city of London, of Russian influence and money. A small victory is still a win – here we have a delicious irony that the public profile Abramovich cultivated in lavishing £1.5 billion (in “personal” losses) on Chelsea FC has likely expedited his exile, that and his links to Putin made him an easy win in the court of public opinion for the increasingly lame duck Tory government. But an epiphany on sportswashing or sporting integrity, it is not.

Despite a favourable climate, the UK government will squander a golden opportunity to set a precedent, and right the wrongs of letting football operate unregulated. Because Chelsea will likely be sold for the most money ever for a sports team, £3 billion is the rumoured price, it vanquishes any chance of regulations being imposed on football and will no doubt vindicate the Premier League that they’ve ultimately chosen correctly by showing themselves the money.

Fans have enabled all of this to a degree. A large number of Manchester City fans are either oblivious to, or completely unconcerned by their owner meeting with your favourite Cabbage Patch Kid faced despot recently because their team wins shit every season. Is it fair to judge the suitability of a country to own a Premier League football club by the company they keep? It did for Abramovich, but only when the bombs and bullets started raining down, and Abramovich was a citizen of the country firing them. Perhaps that’s the new low-bar disqualification for owning a Premier League football club.

There are other hypocrisies at play in hoping that ministers will force the Saudis out of Newcastle United and Abu Dhabi out of Manchester City. It’s also extremely unlikely when Boris was busy toadying up to the Saudis this month, begging for oil (unsuccessfully), despite them murdering journalists, butchering eighty-one people in a day recently in a lovely mass execution, all while the UK government sells them weapons to bomb the fuck out of Yemen. Supporters of rival clubs, who’ll see Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s achievements (and Newcastle’s, should they reach that echelon) as bought or tainted, are primarily motivated not by ethical consistency but to see their rival’s scummy owners binned and sold to owners who’ll spend less money on players. Still, relative prudence, in Chelsea’s case, may, at the very least, encourage their fans to stop chanting “we’ve got more money than yow”.

Given the myopia and double standards of successive UK governments, it’s only fair that the Premier League can justify the sale of Newcastle United to a Saudi wealth fund on it technically not being owned by the crown prince of the Saudi state, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is viewed differently to one middle eastern country subjugating another. The Russian invasion is happening in Europe and mainly affecting ethnically white people. Throw in the geographical proximity, which is a bit too close for comfort, that most Muslim countries are portrayed in the West as backwaters blighted with archaic laws and religious fundamentalism, and the latter conflict matters just enough to oust an individual from owning a football club.

Whoever Chelsea FC is sold to – an “honest” cabal of American billionaires that’ll run the club sustainably, most likely – will be waived through, because, ultimately, the removal of Abramovich is gesture politics at its most insidious. Nothing has truly changed, the trite cliché of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing applies as everything is still for sale in the UK to the highest bidder (just provided you’re not Russian). While the Premier League takes the blame for this attitude becoming embedded in the football sphere, successive governments over the past three decades were the ones to set that tone.

Stupid is as stupid does, to quote that movie, again.

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Song Of The Day – Whip You With A Strap by Ghostface Killah

From the album ‘Fishscale’ (2006)

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