Lunchtable TV talk: The reluctant hit – Mr Inbetween, Barry, Killing Eve & Mary Kills People

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My ambivalent relationship with televisual entertainment has led me into a patternof overdose, give up cold turkey, and then find some middle-ground, rationing my TV intake. In recent months, however, we’ve all mostly been stuck at home (not that this is anything new for me), I’ve fallen back into my multi-tasking, tv-viewing patterns of yesteryear.

These patterns aren’t terrible, but at some point I’m taking such an overload of information in, I don’t always absorb finer details of what I am watching. The constant stream makes me forget where I saw or heard something – which streaming platform, which character said what, what show was it? Unless I make notes while watching, which I don’t normally do because I am busily doing something else simultaneously, I can’t remember where anything came from and am already on to the next thing, diving into the endless flow of available content.

I preface my brief discussion on the unusual Australian dark comedy, Mr Inbetween, in this way because I want to explain that most things I watch do not affect me deeply. I don’t find myself reflecting on them a lot after watching them. But a couple of weeks after bingeing the two seasons of Mr Inbetween, I am still thinking about it.

When I stumbled on it, I didn’t know what it was – and didn’t know what to expect. Was it meant to be funny, serious? Turns out it was very much… both of these things. Other articles have pointed out the abundance of “hitman”-related shows currently in production – from the offbeat Barry to the histrionic and, frankly, annoying Killing Eve.

“There are two immediate touch points elsewhere on your dial in Barry and Killing Eve, but Mr Inbetween is neither of those. The ethical axis in HBO’s Barry finds its equilibrium too easily, and in Barry an anti-hero too much in need of redemption, while Killing Eve spirals into its own emotional cyclone too quickly, playing fast and hard notes in a way that is thrilling but also dizzying.”

Shows like Fargo also have their share of hit-for-hire ‘workers’. And just this week I discovered a Canadian show called Mary Kills People, which I knew was about a doctor illegally helping terminally ill patients to die with assisted suicide. On the surface, Mary isn’t about hitmen, but its content turned out to be cat-and-mouse attempts to outsmart the police, morally ambiguous “hitman” allusions and a main character who is completely neglectful of her children. The poignance and humanity of euthanasia is almost entirely missing here (you’d be better off watching Louis Theroux‘s Altered States… and its coverage of people who choose death).

This, though, is yet another reason why Mr Inbetween is so extraordinary. Presenting extended moments of subdued comedy mixed deftly with matter-of-fact but emotionally wrenching moments (in particular, a season two moment in which the lead, Ray, assists in a suicide – quite a contrast to Ray’s detached approach to killing people professionally). The “inbetween” is what happens all the rest of the time (“Save for the moments that most people would do anything to avoid, life is pretty slow and uninteresting and undramatic and uninspiring.” –Jonathan Safran Foer, Here I Am).

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Code – You are only coming through in waves

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Watching TV and films is often like riding a wave. One show or film appears, and you are carried along to the next, even if by seemingly random choice, and somehow there are always connections. Many connections between the shows, many connections to other things I have watched, whether its the appearance of various actors popping up or thematic links.

The other night in sleeplessness, I stumbled on the six-part Australian TV show The Code… I’m hit immediately by recognizable visual cues. First, the appearance of Aden Young. This is the only other place I have seen Aden Young, apart from his leading role in the underwatched Rectify. I have often wondered how he acts in other things. As the startlingly weird Daniel Holden, it is hard to imagine him in any other way. I keep expecting his actual Australian accent to come out slower and more southern, like Holden’s unmistakably deliberate drawl.

Next, I stared and stared at the actor who plays the mentally unstable hacker brother, certain that I know him from somewhere. He very vaguely reminded me of the dude who was George in Grey’s Anatomy but I KNEW it was not him. But then it hit me – Manhattan! Yes, Manhattan, which will be back soon for its second season (which ties in like a gentle wave with my recent viewing of the Norwegian production, Kampen om tungtvannet, or The Saboteurs – both deal with the race toward building a nuclear bomb).

Figures that I would accidentally select something Australian immediately after seeing the Australian film Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska. It made me think of things I had not considered in years, such as reading one of Bruce Chatwin’s final books, The Songlines, during university. Without knowing of his appearance beforehand, there in the Australian Outback as an American National Geographic photographer is Adam Driver, from Girls.

And just the night before, I had seen Driver in While We’re Young, which is the latest output from Noah Baumbach. Fine-tuned Baumbach is great. Some of his stuff can be pretentious – not bad, per se, but makes you wonder what for. Nothing quite so true in that department than his widely praised The Squid and The Whale, which I had not thought of in years. I liked it but it’s definitely a “type” of movie. But I mention it now more because of this continuing wave of connection. The film was mentioned in Thursday’s episode of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, when Denis Leary’s character confuses the story of Jonah and the whale with The Squid and The Whale, which is exactly the kind of thing he’d take the piss out of (and does).

In many ways, The Code was a microcosm of the point I am trying to make – lots of disconnected threads eventually cross. The story in The Code is actually three separate threads of the same story. They cross but do not quite interweave until all the threads come together. This is a lot like what television (and film) are like – a small world full of people who inhabit many imaginary worlds. We the viewers piece them all together each time.