Gee, there’s some great things to watch on telly at the moment. Here’s four that I’ve found irresistible.
Mr Inbetween (Foxtel, Binge): Australian drama about a hitman. Scott Ryan wrote and produced this and plays the lead character of Ray Shoesmith, an army veteran who starts the series as a bouncer at a nightclub with a sideline in killing people for cash. He has an eight year old daughter, an ex-wife in a Christian relationship, a brother with motor neurone disease, and a father he won’t talk to.
During the course of 26 half hour episodes over three series (spanning four years of screen time), Ray has complex relationships with his girlfriend (Brooke Satchwell, who gets better and better with every role), his nightclub boss (Damon Herriman having a great time), his resolutely supportive best mate Gary (Justin Rosniak, a comic scene stealer) and another thug for hire (Matt Nable, intense and scary as always).
Ray also kills a lot of people, and assaults a lot more. Be warned, this is not a killer-with-a-heart-of-gold scenario. Ray does what needs to be done, he’s very good at it, and he’s completely comfortable with using extreme violence to do it. There is a LOT of blood and swearing, which somehow doesn’t detract from some beautifully nuanced writing. Nash Edgerton directs with a fierce and adept hand, drawing terrific performances from his cast, including some great guest appearances.
The Bear (Disney+): A young, internationally successful chef returns to Chicago to take over his deceased brother’s Italian sandwich bar. Over eight episodes, Jeremy Allen White plays Carmen Berzatto with a charismatic intensity that leaps off the screen, supported by a motley crew of kitchen staff, who have to deal not just with their new boss’ fancy ideas but also an even younger female trained sous chef with even fancier ideas (Ayo Edebiri in a standout performance).
They all work in a tiny kitchen, where their individual neuroses and work habits collide with each other, fed as much by the spectre of the suicide of older brother Michael, as the professional and personal insecurities of his younger brother. It’s very Chicago street (more swearing), intensely emotional and features better food prep camerawork than you’ll see in most cooking shows. Look for Oliver Platt in a key supporting role.
Poker Face (Stan): Classic format US series about Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne), a young woman who can unfailingly tell when someone is lying and uses this skill to solve murders. When I say “classic”, I mean the tried and tested format of self-contained episodes (10, in this case), each set in a new location with a new cast (except for the lead and Benjamin Bratt as the criminal enforcer hunting her) and a new story.
It harks back to the good old days of Columbo in that we witness the crime at the start of each episode and follow our heroine as she works out whodunnit over the course of an hour. The Columbo reference extends to Charlie’s interrogation style and how she catches people in their lies (I almost expected her to put a finger to her forehead and say “Oh, ah, just one more thing”). The addition of her superpower makes her different to a Columbo or Jim Rockford or Pepper Anderson but the lineage is clear and unashamed (she shares Rockford’s tendency to be reluctantly drawn into violence and Pepper’s mouthy brashness). We even get the main bad guy appearing only by voice over the phone, perhaps a reverse tribute to Charlie and his Angels.
Like all those classic series, this one provides opportunities for some outstanding guest actors to revel in very clever scenarios (and more swearing). Needless to say, Charlie always identifies the killer, but how they are eventually caught provides some delicious plot twists.
The Last of Us (Foxtel, Binge): This is the best thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Set in a future USA almost destroyed and depopulated by a killer virus, the scenario sees tough guy Joel (Pedro Pascal from The Mandalorian, who was reportedly paid $650,000 per episode) accompanying and protecting 14 year old Ellie who appears to be immune (Bella Ramsey, the precocious noblewoman Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones).
The rest of the world consists of either zombie-like infected people trying to spread the virus (violently and disgustingly) or the few remaining uninfected trying to avoid them. Superbly written (a “casual” remark in Ep 3 suddenly explains something that happened in Ep 1, if you think about it), acted (particular shout-out to Anna Torv, an Australian I only knew from The Newsreader, who is brilliant), directed (clever, perceptive, emotional, extremely bold) and staged (you can see where $14 million per episode goes – it’s totally worth it).
Based on a video game, the futuristic scope is immense and deeply personal at the same time. It’s like the scariest of zombie movies and the most deeply thoughtful science fiction at the same time. It’s also a road movie and, in fact, a whole bunch of genres rolled into one. So far, I’ve seen five episodes of nine (which covers the events of the video game), with a sequel series apparently in the works.