Recurring Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Minok, Stephen Bauer, Katherine Moennig and Jon Voight
Ray Donovan is one of LA’s top fixers. He works with the rich and famous, professionally covering up their nasty habits and saving them from devastating lawsuits. However, while he sorts out other people’s problems in the blink of an eye, he struggles with his own. His father was released from prison early and is trying to prove to everyone that he is on the straight and narrow. His brother, Bunchy, is struggling with a traumatic childhood and going down a dangerous road. A bitter FBI agent is rummaging around his past, intent on dragging up an old crime. And worst of all, his wife is starting to wake up to his law-breaking ways, meaning his perfect family façade is crumbling around him.
Ray Donovan’s greatest success is mainly because of its characters. Although most of the roles are pretty hateful figures, Ann Biderman, the show-runner, never lets them become clear-cut good guys or bad guys. Jon Voight, in particular, is meant to portray this horrible failed father figure. He does nasty things and in all honesty, we should be sharing Ray’s extreme dislike for the man. However, both Biderman and Voight make Mickey Donovan a tough man to hate. He is bad for the characters, yet he is so much on screen. The audience and every character who isn’t Ray knows that he is a determental figure, but he is so grotesquely charming and funny that you can’t bring yourself to call him a bad character. This is like a lot of the characters in Ray Donovan: on paper, they are people we should hate, but the show handles them so smoothly that we never do. Interestingly, the only character we end up disliking is the FBI agent, Van Miller, who is reinforced as a sleazy, nasty piece of work, even though, ironically, he is the only character who doesn’t let themselves be corrupted by the rich lifestyle of the LA life.
In many regards, these trademarks of the characters are a good summary of the direction as well. They are dark figures, but are so fun to spend time with, you love them. The show takes on some dark topics, mainly child molesting. It plays an important part of the story and is always there in the background, explaining some of the decisions of the characters. However, while most shows would decide to wallow in misery (see anything made by the BBC recently), Ray Donovan has fun. There is a thin layer of black humour here, where sometimes the show lets you laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Characters are played for the jokes sometimes and even when they are put in dark scenarios, there is space to laugh. I think this is one of the elements that makes Ray Donovan so successful. While you end up avoiding darker shows, here we are kept hooked by the show’s desire to be entertaining. And isn’t that what TV should really be.
The actors are all fantastic. Liev Schreiber is amazing as Ray Donovan. If you pardon the pun, everyone loves Raymond. Even when he goes down some shady roads, his character is so cool, so charming that you stick with him. He says very little, the writers understanding that sometimes silence is the best option. Many actors would lose control of a silent figure, but Schreiber shows us how fantastic an actor is. I never doubted his talent, but this show proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt. The other actor that really caught my eye was Dash Minok, as the brother who was molested. It was a tricky role to handle, but the approach to the character and the childlike innocent warped into adulthood was riveting to watch. Bunchy is one of the more interesting characters on the TV right now, especially since Walter White bowed out of the game this week.
I also enjoy the fact that there are several sub-characters waiting in the wings. We are introduced to a load of characters that disappear from the story, as soon as the season finds a focus on what direction it wants to go down. Some might be disillusioned at the fact that the show dropped Ambyr Childers’ young starlet figure (she was the ideal metaphor for the industry Ray Donovan was keen on satirising, especially with the Miley Cyrus topic). I would have also liked to have seen more from Lee Drexler. However, I also enjoyed that the show didn’t try and take on all of these subjects as it would have made the ending bloated and focus is what made the second half of the season strong. What we do have is an endless amount of possibilities for the show to go down, and that excites me as a fan of the show.
If I could offer a small criticism, I would have liked the show to have a touch more fun. What I liked about the first few episodes was the fact that Ray was juggling three problems with amusing celebrity figures and then a personal problem would add itself to the list. The show excelled with Ray working all of these disasters out by the time the 50 minute running time came to an end. It was exciting to watch, but when the show got to full speed, it dropped the subplots. Fair enough, but it could have kept them a bit longer. I enjoyed that aspect of the show and the middle of the season could have benefited from it.
Final Verdict: Ray Donovan is cleverly made with interesting characters and a fun premise. I am excited to see where the show goes next.