“Ray Donovan” is a familiar yet potent thrill

P15-19155-ADV02_RAY_PR_RELEASE_300When Showtime’s hit series, Ray Donovan premiered in 2013, expectations weren’t high. Creator and showrunner Ann Biderman(Southland) wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with her story about an LA fixer(Liev Schreiber) who cleans up more messes inside his own family than he does for the rich, famous and dangerous people on the West Coast. The low expectations made for a welcome invitation into a new Sunday night entertainment.

The result was a hard hitting simplistic drama that worked well because of a signature cast handpicked by Biderman to escape into this mad souls rotting away on the inside in the face of greed, violence, sickening pasts and everything else that wasn’t nailed to the floor of guilty pleasure vices. Debuting it’s third season on Sunday, July 12th, the series hasn’t skipped a beat and gotten stronger with each hour.

What makes the show tick so perfectly is the brooding, expressive and quietly powerful leading man work from Schreiber. Here is a guy who played the supporting character for decades and waited for his opportunity, just like James Gandolfini did before Tony Soprano, Jon Hamm before Don Draper, and Jeremy Piven before Ari Gold.

While he is the voice of HBO Sports and owner of a role in the most underrated hockey movie of all time(Ross Rhea in Goon), the actor had never gotten a real chance to lead a movie or show until Ray came along. Schreiber scrapped around Hollywood in juicy smaller roles before finding a starring role that he could really turn into and take a full swing. What he has done is create a calculating and unpredictable anti-hero.

That’s the kool-aid these days on television, right? Gritty mysterious anti-heroes. Walter White. Draper. Soprano. Dexter Morgan. Everybody on The Wire. Gone is the good old righteous hero and in is the man we can’t trust and have no idea how to handle but love to follow anyway. Donovan has a ton of issues.

His brother, Bunchie(Dash Mihok), is a misguided adult shaking off childhood abuse from a priest that had his way with more than one Donovan brother. Terry(the gifted English actor, Eddie Marsan) is afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease from his many years of boxing and can’t find a way of happiness in his life.

Their father, Mickey(played to the tilt and back by Jon Voight) creates all kinds of problems for his sons, most notably Ray, who hates his guts for a list of issues that could run the length of Palm Beach. Voight and Schreiber’s scenes are so well balanced and menacing. Neither actor goes over the top and they stare at each other like a pair of lions who know all roads lead back to this moment. Voight has gotten rightful award consideration and nominations, but Liev’s work is just as strong. Schreiber’s way of expressing four pages of dialogue with a couple glares is something a film school can’t teach. He’s a talent.

Paula Malcomson is Ray’s bitter wife, a woman pulled from her native Boston trying to cope with the big deal nature of Los Angeles and Hollywood. Steven Bauer’s work as Ray’s right hand man Avi helps reinvent the actor who once shared a room with Al Pacino’s Tony Montana. Every actor here was born to play the role they are in and no one is miscast, right down to the daughter(Kerris Dorsey) and son(Devon Bagley).

The first season is all set up and follow through, finishing with a great guest spot from James Woods. The real punch came in the second season, when unexpected alliances and a dark past catch up with Ray, which left him estranged from his family and close friends. When Season 3 picks up Sunday, Ray is in a dark place and that makes for great television. Drinking like a fish with blood on his suit and guilty escape on his mind. Enter Ian McShane and Katie Holmes as new destructive people in his life and this season should get fun really quick.

Ray Donovan isn’t wholly original or groundbreaking but it will rock you. It’s an entertaining show that cuts deep at unexpected times. Right when you think it’s reached a safe high peak, something happens and it keeps climbing. It’s easy to watch and enjoy without feeling burdened by the idea of having to remember a book of information if you miss an episode. It’s familiar yet potent. I suggest binge watching it immediately.

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