In Australia: Mondays, 8.30pm AEST, Showcase. Starts October 1
Hitmen and comedy seem to be a heady combination. On TV alone, just recently, we’ve had HBO’s Barry and Epix’s Get Shorty; UK TV has Mel and Sue reunited at last for the forthcoming Hitmen. And in the movies, there are comedy hitmen in The Whole Nine Yards, Get Shorty (again), Pulp Fiction, A Fish Called Wanda and Grosse Pointe Blank, to name but a few.
Which is odd. Hitmen murder people for money, so they aren’t especially nice people.
Mr InBetween may be a dark comedy about a hitman, but it does at least seem to understand that. Based on Scott Ryan’s 2005 student movie The Magician (he can make people disappear…), it sees Ryan reprise his role as Ray Shoesmith, a smiling Australian odd job man who seems like a nice bloke. He’s a decent enough father to his child, whom he still manages to spend time with, despite the divorce. He keeps a dog, plays video games at home and is willing to do a mate a big favour if he needs it – like ‘admitting’ to his mate’s Russian wife that that DVD of porn she found was actually his, not her husband’s. He even helps with the care of his brother, who’s in the early stages of motor neurone disease.
Those odd jobs, though? Sure, he’s a bouncer at a club. But he’s also a debt-collector, who’ll threaten the wife and family of anyone who fails to pay up on time. And if someone fails his boss, they might find themselves plummeting to their doom from a great height.
In between days
Ryan’s portrayal of an enforcer is both darkly threatening and nuanced. He smiles so much you want to like him and when he doesn’t need to use violence, he won’t, instead using persuasion and threats to get what he wants. When a young protégé on his first job starts roughly up an ordinary man who can’t pay, Ryan simply gets the man’s wallet out, looks up the address and pockets the family photo he finds. It’s enough to get the money.
When the protégé apologies later, Ryan is all smiles still. “Don’t worry. You’re not expected to know what to do the first time,” he says.
But the story is also a portrayal of loneliness. Despite his friendliness and constant banter with the blokes, Ryan finds it hard to connect with women. When a paramedic (Brooke Satchwell) he encounters when they’re walking their dogs shows interest, Ryan doesn’t know how to act, but knows that he should. Fortunately, life presents him with a second chance…
Portrait of a hitman
The show is billed as a dark comedy, but there aren’t many jokes, just wry situations. More pervasive is the expectation of constant violence, with the possibility Ryan’s smile is going to disappear and erupt into violence at any point. When the violence comes, it’s bone crunching and there’s an opening stunt that will make you almost gasp in wonder at they managed to film it.
Instead, it’s more of a well written, brave character piece, with some fine acting by Ryan. That writing and performance is presumably enough to have wooed the great and the good of Australia’s acting fraternity to turn up, since Damon Herriman (Secret City, Quarry) and Jackson Tozer (The Ex-PM) are regulars, and Firass Dirani (Underbelly) and Matt Nable (Deadline Gallipoli, Hyde and Seek, Arrow, Barracuda) are set to appear in later episodes.
Don’t expect fireworks and long action scenes. Don’t expect huge jokes. But Mr InBetween is a fascinating little show with only a half-hour runtime, so pretty much anyone can give it a try.