Ray Donovan – the New Showtime Series

Ray Donovan is the title of a new series on Showtime. The series premiered today June 30th. Since it was available for a free preview, I checked it out. Liev Schreiber plays the LA tough guy Ray Donovan. For all intents and purposes, Donovan is a ‘fixer’ in the mode of George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, with two differences: Clayton worked New York, and Donovan works LA. Clayton dealt with corporate shenanigans and some criminal work, while Donovan seems to be walking on the wild side with some very nasty people who beneath their wealth and glitz are just lowlifes.

As the show opens we see Donovan smoothly navigate through a series of what would be for most folks – utter disasters.

A pro basketball player wakes up in a LA hotel room with a dead girl in his bed. An action movie star claims that he made a mistake when he picked up a tranny hooker. Another wealthy client wants Donovan to keep tabs on his girl friend. This guy is already married and he doesn’t trust the girl friend. So while staking out the girl friend’s beach front pad, our guy Ray Donovan notices that this girl is being stalked by some creep.

Anyway, you’ll have to watch the show to find out how Donovan deals with these messy cases. He works for a fancy LA law firm that is headed up by Donovan’s partner Lee Drexler played by Peter Jacobson. Also on hand is Donovan’s mentor, Ezra Goldman, who is played in a round-the-bend, or off-his-rocker way by Elliot Gould. They are willing to do any and all of the dirty work needed for their deep pocket clients.

Make no mistake. Ray is very good at what he does. What I haven’t told you yet is there’s plenty of problems in Ray’s family. He’s a Bostonian transplanted to LA. He, his wife, and two kids live in a tony LA suburb called Calabasas. The usual family stuff goes on at home – the young son getting into fights at school, daughter growing up, as well as Mrs. Donovan hating Calabasas right down to her core. Toss in the pressure of getting the kids into a swanky private school, and you have the full picture of life in the Donovan’s home.

Ray has two brothers – one is an ex-boxer who not only went more than a few rounds too many, but he also took far too many punches, and now all that battering has resulted in a palsy which makes his arm and right side tremble. Another brother was molested by priests back in the day in Boston, and he now has multiple substance abuse problems. There was a sister, but she killed herself as a teenager (and we don’t know why yet).

Come near my family, and I'll kill you...

Come near my family, and I’ll kill you…

Then there is Ray’s father Mickey who is played by Jon Voight. Mickey was a thug, a hoodlum, and worse, and has just been granted parole from a prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, after doing a double dime stretch. Mickey thinks he was set up long ago by Ray, and now that he’s out – he wants revenge.

So Mickey hits the street running. But before heading west – Mickey shoots and kills a priest who was most likely the one who abused Ray’s brother.

So you can see where this is going. Irish mobsters, drugs, sex, sleaze, and more under the sun and along the Pacific shores. While the show is not anywhere near being an original idea conceptually – I mean the didn’t Tony Soprano have issues at home too? – this one has a lot more darkness and grit to it than did either Michael Clayton or The Sopranos.

Schreiber as Ray Donovan has the look and feel of the typical tough guy. His dark 8 day old beard is imposing, and he’s got those piercing eyes, and he is a big man – factor all that in, along with Schreiber playing him as the laconic silent type, you have a fierce guy who commands your attention, and respect.

Now Voight is a bit lighter in mien, and yet, his Mickey is just as deadly as Schreiber’s Ray Donovan. So we’ve got what looks like a battle royal in the Donovan Clan ahead.

I think this is a show built for and angled toward a male demographic but it was created by a woman – Anne Biderman who is a seasoned veteran in both films and tv with a specialization in cops and criminals. Besides Ray Donovan, she created the very good Southland TV Series, she wrote the screenplay for the film Public Enemies (directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp), she wrote the screen play for Smilla’s Sense of Snow, and the screenplay for Primal Fear that starred Richard Gere. She also wrote episodes for NYPD Blue. Biderman won an Emmy for writing a NYPD Blue episode; so along with Voight and Schreiber – the show has good ‘bones‘.

The trick will be to see if Ray Donovan can capture your attention and garner decent ratings, but also whether or not the public is willing to invest time and money into Ray Donovan to watch another hoodlum family as adult TV fare.

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