Mr Inbetween and the murky morals of TV's serial killers

by Diana Wichtel / 20 November, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Mr Inbetween TV

In a confused moral universe, Mr Inbetween charts the trials and tribulations of your average neighbourhood hitman.

Just because you kill people on a regular basis doesn’t mean you are a bad person. As the moral underpinnings of a television series, even in a post-Tony Soprano and Walter White world, this is a hard sell.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times but it seems television is increasingly presenting the opportunity to suspend judgment in the face of the unspeakable. Dexter was a particularly cruel serial killer but he retained a certain fastidious charm: “I’m a very neat monster.” And his victims deserved it.

More recently, Barry followed the gruesome fortunes of a former marine turned assassin trying to redeem himself by becoming an actor. “I’m a good man,” insisted Barry as the body count climbed. Soon people were dying whether they deserved it or not.

Now, drama-comedy Mr Inbetween offers a peculiarly Antipodean iteration of the likeable killer in Ray Shoesmith. He’s the divorced dad of adorable eight-year-old Brittany. He takes care of his brother, Bruce, who has motor neurone disease. He’s a remorseless hitman. After a hard day making a man dig his own grave before shooting him, he lets Brittany paint his fingernails green. What’s not to like?

Fortunately, we are not required to take any of this too seriously. The first episode had me running whimpering from the room. Mr Inbetween has also had me laughing out loud. Ray is the kind of guy who brings a fluffy koala with the empathetic message “Harden the f--- up” when he goes to visit his mutilated mate, Gary, in hospital. He starts to try to dismember a body (Gary’s brother-in-law. Long story). The putative corpse objects vigorously and runs off. “He wasn’t dead,” notes Ray with the carnivorous grin of a man who knows that life, like a hitman dramedy, is darkly absurd. “Well, thanks, Captain Obvious,” says Gary.

Ray’s reluctant attendance at a court-ordered anger-management group – some punk made his daughter drop her ice cream – offers the best therapy-related scenes since Coronation Street’s Peter Barlow took his barking family to an AA meeting. Ray isn’t in a position to take the moral high ground, but why let that stop him? He hit a bloke, he explains patiently. “No offence, but I don’t really want to sit here with a bunch of f---ing wife bashers and child beaters.” Offence is taken. Cue brawl at anger-management meeting.

Scott Ryan – where has he been? – is magnificent. He brings a laconic, boneless composure (murderous eruptions aside) to the part of Ray. As he waits for help to dispose of a body, he flips casually through a magazine. He has a code that he kills by: they deserve it. If you look at it right, he’s making society a better place. Except when – oops – he kills the wrong guy.

Even his efficiently stripped-down moral universe has its complications. Ray doesn’t like to lie. No, he tells Brittany, Santa isn’t real. Neither is the Tooth Fairy. Or Jesus. Unicorns, he’s willing to concede, exist. He’s not a complete monster.

Mr Inbetween began life as Ryan’s 2005 student film, The Magician, a short mockumentary about a Melbourne hitman that was shot in 10 days on a budget of A$3000. It achieved a certain cult following. Now Mr Inbetween has been taken up by American channel FX.

It’s hilarious, uncomfortable viewing at a time when it seems that ethics in public life are becoming increasingly situational and that lying, bullying and demonising the powerless is just politics as usual. “See, if you’re in jail and you disrespect someone, you can end up dead. There are consequences,” says Ray. “But out here in the real world, there’s no consequences.” It turns out no one cares.

MR INBETWEEN, Sky SoHo, Wednesday, 8.05pm, and Sky Go.

Video: SpoilerTV

This article was first published in the November 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

How you can help crack the insect code at Te Papa
101529 2019-01-23 00:00:00Z Science

How you can help crack the insect code at Te Papa

by Sam Button

Te Papa is on a mission to decipher the secret life of insects.

Read more
Bill Ralston says goodbye to Auckland
101333 2019-01-23 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Bill Ralston says goodbye to Auckland

by Bill Ralston

Our columnist finally turns his back on the congested, costly city of his birth.

Read more
Decision to force woman to pay likely abuser will have 'chilling effect'
101496 2019-01-22 11:12:54Z Crime

Decision to force woman to pay likely abuser will…

by RNZ

The lawyer of a woman ordered to pay $28,000 to her likely abuser has urged the justice minister to intervene.

Read more
7 traits that show how unsuited Trump is to the White House
101194 2019-01-22 00:00:00Z World

7 traits that show how unsuited Trump is to the Wh…

by Paul Thomas

Instead of striving to be disciplined, dedicated and presidential, Trump is flitting between seven characters that have no place in the White House.

Read more
Why vitamin D production is slower in old age
101151 2019-01-22 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Why vitamin D production is slower in old age

by Jennifer Bowden

Getting our quota of vitamin D becomes more important – but more difficult – as we age.

Read more
Why ethical eating often stops at the restaurant door
101520 2019-01-22 00:00:00Z Food

Why ethical eating often stops at the restaurant d…

by Rachel A. Ankeny and Heather Bray

Can a chef promote foraging, seasonality and plant-based eating, yet also serve meat and other animal-derived protein products on the same menu?

Read more
Why the Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery is bound to attract the curious
101463 2019-01-22 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Why the Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery is bound…

by Ellen Rykers

Artist Bruce Mahalski's museum is the result of a lifetime of collecting.

Read more
Gillette ad isn't anti-men, it's anti-toxic masculinity – it should be welcomed
101480 2019-01-21 16:59:29Z Social issues

Gillette ad isn't anti-men, it's anti-toxic mascul…

by Nicola Bishop

The backlash against the Gillette ad shows how painfully little distance we as a society have covered since the #MeToo movement.

Read more