TV Spotlight-Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan centers on Liev Schreiber’s Los Angeles “fixer” and his relationship with his father and the rest of his family.  He is the guy nobody knows because he won’t let them behind the dark façade he protects himself with like a sheet of armor.  Few actors deserve a leading role and can rip into one like this than Schreiber.  He has owned the supporting mantle and made his dent in certain roles but truly shines here as a troubled man with a well of anger that could fill an ocean of hate.  He doesn’t just solve problems.  He hurts people.  He tortures people.  He takes care of people yet damages others.  He doesn’t go to bed with the sound of the ocean at his back.  He drowns himself in lies, betrayals, blood and a few fingers of bourbon.

All his fire and agenda start and finish with his father, Mickey(played by the legendary character actor Jon Voight, breathing chilled vapor into his scenes), who just got out of jail 5 years early from a stint that Ray arranged because the old man screwed his life 6 ways from Sunday.   Ray’s brother, Terry (the fantastic and soulful Eddie Marsan), has Parkinson’s disease and can’t connect with anyone not wearing a pair of boxing mitts.  His other brother, Bunchie(a sad eyed Dash Mihok), is scarred for life after being molested by a priest when he was a child.  They had a sister too, but she threw herself off a building year’s earlier and as far as we know, Mickey is the cause and the effect of that horrible event.   There’s Ezra(Elliot Gould, lending his old pro talent here in a heartbreaking manner), Ray’s mentor, who is slowly losing his mind to Alzheimer’s.  Ray’s wife, Abby(Deadwood’s Paula Malcomson, the red haired Irish woman cracking a Boston accent here) has no idea who her husband is nor what he does but loves him anyway.  His kids(Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby) are mixed up emotionally and getting into pools of water that may encompass them before Ray can pull them out.   Sure, there are other threads but that is the center pack.  I haven’t even told you that much because this show unfolds at its own pace.

Without its superb cast, Ray Donovan would be another NBC crime drama dying a slow death on the cut chart.  Showtime is a great network because they put these hard hitting authentic crime dramas on the air and let them slowly grow and make their way into your system.  The pilot is compelling but only lays the seeds for the story that will span 12 episodes.   It isn’t until episode 8(which aired this past Sunday) that the hook is laid into you.   You can’t put these kinds of damaged souls on network cable.  They require patience.   Ray Donovan consists of a sea of misfit toys and brutalized souls and wouldn’t make it on a safe network.

Check out Frank Whaley’s diabolical FBI agent who is determined to bring the Donovan’s to their knees.   Look at Steven Bauer bringing back the cool and deadly playing Ray’s right hand man Avi.  Think about the exact crime that got Mickey in jail and what part each character played in it.  Everybody has a secret on this show and you don’t figure it out until the 8th hour.  You watch them in the first hour and you think you have seen it all and can brush it off, but there are layers of personality to the characters.   We don’t know what Ray did to Mickey and why he hates his father so much.  Voight and Schreiber play the scenes like two devils dancing around their own tomb.  Nobody is a clean cut good guy or bad guy on this show.  They all carry an ounce of dirt and a dose of loyalty to a code.   Some are more lost than others while a few keep repeating their mistakes.   Without this cast and their ability to not overplay their parts, the show would fall flat on its head.  You can’t teach understatement to a group of pretenders.

Creator Ann Biderman created Southland, wrote episodes for N.Y.P.D. Blue and wrote the screenplays for Public Enemies and Primal Fear.  She lives in the land of hardcore authentic crime shows and likes to take chances by bending well known genres.  Ray Donovan shows Biderman mixing all her worlds of creativity together.  The courts, the streets, the law and the unseen demons that dance through our souls on a daily basis.   Deep at the heart of this Showtime gem lays an undeniable truth.    It doesn’t matter what you did in the past.   Whether you like it or not, you have to deal with it sooner or later.  Good deeds go unpunished but bad deeds live forever until you make them right.

Biderman, Schreiber and company present you with a traditional setup and then break it down piece by piece.  Get in now.  Season 1 has 4 hours left and Season 2 comes in 2014.  Ray Donovan doesn’t just deserve your attention.  It’s worth your time and effort.  The authenticity and unfolding of the plot along with the flawless acting make it powerful.

Here’s a behind the scenes take.

-Dan Buffa


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