June 30, 2013



RAY DONOVAN:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime – Potential DVR Alert

Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) is a fixer with plenty to fix.  Professionally, he’s sort of a lower-rent LA version of Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, employed by Hollywood agent Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson) to do whatever’s necessary to clean up after Tinseltown’s celebrities and studio execs.  In the pilot, we see Ray cover up for an athlete who spent the night partying with a girl only to find her dead the next morning from an overdose, by replacing him with an actor who conveniently needs some public proof that he’s straight after an ill-fated encounter with a transvestite.  He also trails Ashley (Ambyr Childers), the former child-star girlfriend of a married executive, to make sure she’s not cheating–and then has to deal with the guy who’s stalking Ashley.

Ray’s personal life is even more of a mess.  His wife Abby (Paula Malcolmson, from Deadwood), is bitter over Ray’s adulteries, and because despite the A-list people for whom Ray works, she and his children still live in the Valley, far from the best schools.  Ray’s mentor Ezra (Elliott Gould), who brought Ray and his family west from Boston, is sinking into dementia.  One of Ray’s brothers, Terry (the excellent British actor Eddie Marsan) is a former prizefighter who has cerebral palsy after too much time in the ring; the other, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), is an alcoholic and drug addict, his life ruined when he was molested by a priest as a boy.  Ray was molested, too, and that seems to be far from his only secret.  A sister committed suicide, for reasons that aren’t yet clear.  Worst of all, Ray’s father Mickey (Jon Voight), is unexpectedly out of his Boston prison after 20 years and heading for LA–paroled for a conviction that Ray may have manipulated to get Mickey off the streets.  We don’t know yet just what Mickey did to deserve that, but he’s clearly a dangerous man, and by the end of the pilot, Abby is doing the one thing Ray begged her not to do, letting Mickey into their lives.

All of which is to say that RAY DONOVAN is yet another fun, upbeat cable series about the glorious happiness of being alive.  There’s so much unrelieved bleakness in TV drama these days that self-parody becomes an increasing possibility, and the best of these very serious shows know how important it is to leaven the misery with some dark humor (Breaking Bad, Dexter), visual style (Mad Men) and/or genre thrills (Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones).  At first glance, Ray Donovan doesn’t seem to offer any of those modes of relief (although Ray isn’t above taking a baseball bat to a miscreant), and that may be a problem for the show.  (In tone, the new series recalls Brotherhood, a very well-written but endlessly downbeat Showtime drama that never found a wide audience.)  Around the time Ray was about to have sex with a nubile blonde and she almost instantly fell into an epileptic seizure, it was beginning to seem like Ray was being dark for the sake of being dark.  (This being paycable, the girl’s illness didn’t completely rule out some adultery later on.)  Ray is written by Ann Biderman, who previously created the critically-beloved but low-rated Southland, which was also no barrel of laughs, but had the benefit of its procedural crime storylines.  Clearly in Ray Donovan, the idea is for that place to be filled by whatever celebrity disasters Ray has to fix each week, but in that particular subgenre, it’s unlikely that the show will ever be able to touch the mad genius of Scandal.

What Ray Donovan does have is a great deal of strong acting.  In the pilot alone, which was directed by cable specialist Allen Coulter (his previous credits include The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Nurse Jackie, Boardwalk Empire and House of Cards), Liev Schreiber must manage two dozen gradations of sadness, fury, worry and rue within Ray’s general moroseness, conveying the truth of Abby’s charge that he has a hole in his heart and also his profound sadness that it’s the case, while Voight is his match and opposite, gregariously threatening.  There’s an extremely solid bench in Malcolmson, Marsan, Mihok and the rest, not to mention Katherine Moennig and Steven Bauer, who have very little to do in the pilot but who play colleagues of Ray’s.

Ray Donovan has the credentials to demand serious attention, and it could well be that the material and performers will bring enough juice to the show to make it compelling.  In an increasingly crowded field, though, being somber and intelligent may not be enough for a drama to stand out.  That may be a challenge that isn’t so easily fixed.


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."