Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan arrives in the All-American tradition
of good/bad heros: Tony Soprano, Walter White, all the other deeply flawed,
often murderous family men who have been at the center of so many of the best
recent series. Unlike those hereos, Ray’s unwanted sidekick is his killer father:
Jon Voight runs away with the show as Mickey Donovan, whom we meet when he gets
out of a Boston-area prison — and races to commit a murder too stunning to
reveal. That is one hard-case bad
Immediately gripping, Showtime’s Ray Donovan is nominally about the title character, a Los Angles
fixer who uses whatever semi-legal and thuggish tactics he needs to get clients
out of scrapes. Dead coke-head woman in a famous athlete’s bed? Call Ray. But
the real drama is broader and deeper. Ray tries to remain some kind of sane and
decent husband and father while surrounded by his own dizzyingly troubled
father and brothers. In real life the Donovans would be the unlikable neighbors
you avoid; as screen characters they are irresistible. They are walking, talking
ethical disaster areas. And the series’ deepest subtext may be our own fascination
with morally dark worlds and families: in the land of killer parents (hello,
Livia Soprano), the good-hearted thug is hero.
In the transplanted L.A. family, Ray has taken care of his
siblings. Eddie Marsan is touching as his brother Terry, who runs a boxing gym –
a poignant line of work for someone trembling with Parkinsons. Brooke Smith has
lovely scenes as a physical therapist with a crush on the socially inept Terry.
The alcoholic brother, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), was molested by a priest as a child
and is still haunted by it; so is the plot, which involves Bunchy’s ordeal. (I
hope at some point the show answers this trivial but annoying question: what
kind of name is Bunchy, anyway?)
Schreiber, always a magnetic actor to watch, makes Ray deliberately
elusive. The first four episodes offer only intriguing clues to the path that
led to his current profession. But we never doubt his determination to protect
his family, all of them fish out of water. Now living in a wealthy neighborhood,
his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), still has her pronounced, New England working-class
accent. In one of the series’ terrifically observed small touches, Abby
pretends she was deliberately making a joke when her adolescent daughter, Bridget
(Kerris Dorsey, Brad Pitt’s daughter in Moneyball),
corrects her grammar.
Ray’s world intersects Hollywood players, including the lawyers
he works for (Elliott Gould and Peter Jacobson). But his own less delicate work
involves baseball bats and, in one unpredictable scene, green dye.
Set against Ray’s moral balancing act is his thoroughly
despicable father, a character Voight plays with such energy and conviction he leaps
off the screen. Mickey is crude, selfish, dangerous, and when he comes to California, with his tacky gold chains and self-satisfied smirk,
he instantly messes up Ray’s life.
Ray Donovan is a terrific and hard-nosed show (created
by Ann Biderman, who also created Southland)
that lures us into a dark world where heightened drama and crime are simply part
of television-family life.
The series premieres
on Sunday but you can go the Showtime site and watch the entire first episode, free,
Or take a quick look at the trailer.