The first three things to say about FX’s Mr Inbetween, which starts its second season on Thursday night, is that the first season of six episodes is available on Hulu and you should probably stop reading this right now and go watch it immediately. Secondly, yes, it’s great, or I wouldn’t have suggested you stop reading and go find it. Third, there’s no period after “Mr” in the title, which is weird but it’s apparently an Australian thing and they do stuff quite differently over there, as you will see on Mr Inbetween.
Now, for those still here (and hopefully you already saw the first season), you know that creator-writer-star Scott Ryan and director Nash Edgerton have constructed a brilliantly taut drama — which jams more into its 23- to 25-minute episodes than most hourlong American dramas — with a lingering emotional after-effect.
All of those elements remain in the second season — certainly in the three episodes that FX made available for review, which were, incidentally, not enough in the same way that watching all 11 episodes may not even ultimately be enough. If there was one damning part to the impressive achievements that Ryan and Edgerton coaxed out of that first season is that it ends in a liminal space like a pause in a sentence, and then you realize there aren’t any more episodes and then you have to wait forever (OK, fine, about a year) to get what will undoubtedly be more exceptional episodes that fly by too quickly. But creativity is a thing that can’t just be processed through an assembly line, so here we are now with the very welcome return of Ryan as one Ray Shoesmith, an Australian hitman having a midlife crisis of sorts.
Aside from the growth spurt of scene-stealing child star Chika Yasumura, who plays Ray’s daughter, Brittany, and an apparent new-car purchase by Ray, the show still finds everyone pretty much where they were after the mind-blowingly creative, violent and funny conclusion to the first season (which I will not spoil here — episode two this season is called “Don’t Be a Dickhead,” so I’m taking that to heart). Anyway, Ray is still taking care of people — meaning daughter Brit; brother Bruce (Nicholas Cassim), who suffers from a debilitating muscular disorder; and girlfriend Ally (Brooke Satchwell), a paramedic attracted to Ray’s no-nonsense personality (if not his lifestyle, which she doesn’t seem to know much about yet).
Ray also “takes care of” people who get on the wrong side of Freddy (Damon Herriman), one of Ray’s more consistent clients, who usually needs money collected from deadbeats or, increasingly, someone killed. For the record, Ray also takes care of people who disrespect him because that’s the only rule of life he strictly adheres to. It usually ends badly for the other people.
Now, if you’re new to Mr Inbetween, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, great, so he’s a hitman but we’re supposed to love him — I’ve seen that before.” Except it’s not quite like that, and rarely has the show tried to sugarcoat Ray’s existence and actions. There’s no “Ray is secretly a saint” — he’s not, at least beyond the sense that bad people can also be kind and love others, as Ray loves and protects his daughter and brother, while also loving Ally, who might not know just yet that she could need protecting. Ray is absolutely an anti-hero, but Ryan doesn’t imbue him with glossy attributes that are meant to subtly divert your attentions from his innate darkness, just as David Chase never tried to make Tony Soprano likable. It’s just when you present a well-rounded character instead of dealing in black-and-white mythology, you run into these kinds of moral battlegrounds where a person who loves his family can also take someone away from theirs without much thought. And you still like that person. And it’s a challenge to justify.
A lot of the success of Mr Inbetween is due to the exceptional directing and cinematography of Edgerton, whose deft touch at lingering on essential human moments somehow elongates the series and makes the short episodes feel like they have room to breathe, to reveal nuances in characters. It’s a hell of a feat that I have no idea how Edgerton pulls off, especially because he’s almost criminally great at setting mood in the composition of both tight shots and the more expansive big-picture scenes. Again, it’s almost astonishing how much feeling gets crammed into 25 minutes. No other drama currently in production achieves this same level of economical brilliance.
Of course, something else in the secret sauce of Mr Inbetween that’s essential is that the show is funny. You can’t have a dark heart like this without leavening it with humor. There’s no cartoon violence in Mr Inbetween. When it happens, it’s real and you feel it, you can’t escape the weight of the consequences that Ray is stacking up. And yet, both throughout the first season and in the three episodes sent for review, Ryan’s ability to generate humor through simple spoken interactions between characters (especially Gary, Ray’s best mate, played by Justin Rosniak) is key to the success of the series.
That said, this second season of Mr Inbetween feels a bit more ominous, as Ray’s other life that he’s kept hidden from Brit and Ally seems to be encroaching a little more. If the first season deftly set up that Ray, at 40, is having doubts about the viability of his chosen profession long-term, the second at least hints that those doubts are well-founded.
I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of this second season of Mr Inbetween. With any luck, Ray will see another day and the show will see more seasons. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, get to Hulu and buzz through the bingeable first season, as Mr Inbetween remains one of the best series people aren’t watching and ended up No. 15 on my 32 best series of 2018.
Cast: Scott Ryan, Brook Satchwell, Justin Rosniak, Chika Yasumura, Nicholas Cassim, Damon Herriman
Created and written by: Scott Ryan
Directed by: Nash Edgerton
Premieres: Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (FX)