July 8, 2013

THE SKED PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Ray Donovan”


RAY DONOVAN:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on RAY DONOVAN:  Ray (Liev Schreiber) is a Hollywood fixer who solves the daily difficulties and career-threatening scandals that trouble the lives of stars and senior executives.  He also has problems of his own.  His marriage to Abby (Paula Malcolmson) is troubled, partly because of his own adulteries, his brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is an ex-boxer with cerebral palsy after too many years in the ring, and his other brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is a–sometimes–recovering addict and alcoholic, forever scarred by the abuse he suffered at the hands of priests in the family’s native Boston.  Worst of all, Ray’s father Mickey (Jon Voight) is newly out of jail after serving 20 years for a murder.  Mickey, who promptly kills a priest upon his release, arrives with the news that the boys have a biracial half-brother, Daryll (Pooch Hall), who none of them knew about, but more to the point, Mickey is a very, very bad man–although we don’t yet know the specifics–and his presence threatens Ray’s relatively comfortable life.

Episode 2:  We still don’t know just what Mickey did 20 years ago to make Ray loathe and fear him so much, but we do learn one concrete fact in the second episode of Ray Donovan:  as was suggested in the pilot, Mickey’s jail sentence came as a result of a frame engineered by Ray, for the murder of a girl actually killed by Ray’s actor friend (and now movie star, which presumably explains how Ray came to Hollywood) Sean Stevens (Johnathan Schaech).  Sean gets a threatening message as soon as Mickey is back in town, which turns out to have been delivered by Daryll–who’s viciously punished for the act at the hands of Ray’s employee Avi (Steven Bauer).

That incident aside, though, Mickey spends the episode on his best behavior.  In fact, he spends most of the hour, written by series creator Ann Biderman and directed by Alan Coulter, enjoying a day with Abby and Ray’s kids, after Abby compounds her decision to invite Mickey into the house at the end of the pilot (Ray wasn’t there) with a jaunt to Malibu.  This illustrates what is starting to seem like a real problem for Ray Donovan:  far too many of the characters act like idiots.  Even though Abby may not know the details of just what Mickey did in Boston, she’s spent 20 years hearing Ray warn her with deadly seriousness about what an awful, terrifying man he is.  And while Biderman’s script tries to pile up some reasons why she might disobey Ray–mostly, that she’s pissed off with him–the idea that she’d ignore all this and let Mickey spend quality time alone with her children feels contrived and unforgivably stupid.  (Mickey, meanwhile, is starting to seem like DeNiro in the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear, all loud bonhomie that barely masks his menace, a similarity accentuated by the fact that deliberately or not, Kerris Dorsey’s performance as Ray’s daughter isn’t far removed from Juliette Lewis’s in that movie.)

The dip in quality from Ray Donovan‘s pilot to its first regular episode is dismaying.  The Hollywood satire portion of the show has a cliched silliness that just doesn’t fit with the grim story of Ray and his family.  This episode brings back the action star discovered with a transvestite in the pilot, with the news that the dopey guy was actually in a relationship with the transvestite and is now being blackmailed with a sex tape, a situation Ray cures with his usual mix of brutality and kindness, and it all makes for a show that’s beginning to feel like Entourage meets The Killing.

This isn’t to say that Ray Donovan is a lost cause.  Liev Schreiber has his finger on Ray’s dark angel persona, and although he and Voight have only had brief moments of screen time together, those scenes have been riveting.  It looks as though Eddie Marsan will have more to do in episodes to come (he has a crush on his physical therapist), which should be a good thing.  And the more we get of Schreiber with Bauer and with Katherine Moennig as his other co-worker, the better.  But in a way, TV’s dark character studies are becoming like procedurals; we have so many to choose from these days that if a new one wants to stand out, it had better be genuinely distinctive.  So far, Ray Donovan is looking like it may lack that magic touch, and while its ratings will likely continue to be moderately strong with the final season of Dexter as its lead-in, it may not have what it takes to develop an audience of its own.


PILOT + 1:  Needs Fixing

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."