Getting Inside Ray Donovan’s Head

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With seminal TV shows such as HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s Mad Men off the radar after their recent season finales, water-cooler chatter over the infamous Red Wedding or Don Draper’s struggle with his true identity have simmered down. Viewers have been left to wonder what summer TV will fill that void of obsessive fan fare.

Luckily, we live in a golden era of TV where there aren’t a lack of shows that unfold like a 13-hour drama with compelling stories, sharp writing, and top-notch acting—and we’re willing to follow these stories week-by-week! (Plus, the production value of shows aren’t too shabby nowadays.)

Ray Donovan—which premiered last night on Showtime—is one of those shows that have packed a powerhouse punch in its first episode, and is being quickly compared to The Sopranos, Entourage, and Scandal. Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) is in the fix-it business in Hollywood–a place that needs the most attention involving the lives of the rich and famous. Supporting his shrewd client and confidante, LA power attorney, Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) with the help of his team—Israeli juggernaut Avi (Steven Bauer) and hard-nosed, second-in-command Lena (Katherine Moennig)—Ray does whatever it takes to fix those problems. Within the first few moments of the opening episode, he helps a married athlete who just signed a multi-million contract handle an incident with a woman who overdosed in his hotel bed, a supposedly heterosexual action-film star who admits to having a problem when he is found out getting a blowjob from a transsexual, and takes the bat with a stalker.

Throw in some crazed executive producers and former Disney child stars to the mix, and it does round out to paint a surprisingly realistic backdrop of celebrity life in Hollywood. Enough TMZ scoops have provided fodder for these type of stories, so much so that even the show references the gossip site. Ray Donovan reveals it takes a village to clean up a celebrity’s mess–one with lawyers, publicists, journalists, and clean-up folk behind the scenes wheeling and dealing.

Although the idea of a Hollywood fixer who can’t fix his own life seems overdone and cliché, Ann Biderman–the creator and executive producer of Ray Donovan (and also of lamented Southland)–has such a quick-witted writing style that she’s created some compelling back stories for the protagonist. Ray is the epitome of the anti-hero (much like Tony Soprano), in that he loves his heavily Boston-accented wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) and his two children, yet he has issues with infidelity and is hot-headed, violent, and makes rash decisions even in his profession with matters come close to the heart. Ray feels compelled to support his damaged family–older brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok), an on-and-off again alcoholic who is dealing with the demons from his past of being molested by a Catholic priest in his youth, as well as his brother Terry (Eddie Marsan), who now suffers from Parkinson’s Disease due to years of boxing. His menacing father and former Boston mobster, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) is out five years early on parole after a 20-year stint in prison from Ray supposedly framing him. Voight is convincing as a force not be reckoned with and one that is looking out for some vengeance. In one scene, he shares lines of coke with Bunchy, in such a casual way as a father hanging out with his son watching a baseball game. Ray’s life will be shook up in the coming episodes to say the very least. Voight and Schreiber are the show-stealers here with their acting chops and are supported by a circle of equally promising actors.

It may feel like there are far too many story lines for a pilot episode, but then again it is the pilot episode and it takes some time for a show to gain footing on the rhythm. There will be a great deal of unearthing the past in this drama, and hopefully Biderman’s voice and style will keep us hooked and begging for more.

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