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).