Showtime got some good news yesterday: numbers for their freshman series Ray Donovan bumped up in week two, and that’s a first for a new drama on the HBO wannabe. Is it because the show is terrific and had great word of mouth? Or because the show is a lousy and had great word of mouth?
Ray Donovan has a pretty awesome pedigree: a cast headed up by Liev Shreiber (pictured) in the title role, along with Jon Voight and Elliot Gould; created by the woman who created Southland, cancelled after one season by NBC and picked up by TNT for four more, Ann Biderman (who also wrote the snappy Johnny Depp/John Dillinger biopic Public Enemies); music by Marcelo Zarvos who composed for HBO’s Phil Spector and Too Big to Fail; shot by Matthew Jensen from Game of Thrones and True Blood, and the list goes on.
So what could go wrong? When you find yourself alternately yelling at the TV and predicting exactly what’s about to happen, you figure, a lot. Then again, there’s some weird satisfaction in that interactivity, so maybe a show can be ridiculously awful and entertaining at the same time? Uh, Showgirls?
Here’s a list of what’s wrong with Ray Donovan. Time will tell if they’re the things that make it right.
Southies in Hollywood. Why? Weird. We haven’t learned in the first two episodes how Ray and his family of hardcore South Boston types end up living in Calabasas next door to some rappers but really who cares. Shreiber and wife Paula Malcolmson (who was great as Trixie the whore from Deadwood) lay the accents on thick as clam chowder and it’s basically disconcerting, like, always. We get it, they’re not from around here, and they’re fish out of water, and they’re clannish, and they have their ways. Just run a crawl that says all that.
Have you heard? Apparently everyone in Hollywood with any power is Jewish. Is this the Southies’ perspective or some universal truth we’re being alerted to? Elliot Gould’s character, a partner in a talent management firm, and the one responsible for importing Ray from Boston, is in mourning for his recently deceased wife and it’s an excuse for him to rediscover his Jewishness and spout Yiddish exclamations! to break the tension where appropriate (you can imagine the writer’s room cards being rearranged). Gould’s partner, played by Peter Jacobson (House), gets to play the money-grubbing Jew-agent type, screaming! screaming! screaming! into his phone headset against a 10th floor Beverly Hills view. Oy, he’s gonna have a heart attack, he’s so stressed! And for good measure there’s the cowardly Jew-producer type “Stu Feldman”(Josh Pais) who also yells a lot — about drive-ons! — but is ultimately craven. Check that off your list of stereotypes.
Ray is a fixer, so we’re going to see him “fixing” ugly situations for the powerful Hollywood Jews in each episode. One storyline revolves around Tommy Wheeler, a hot action star with a $200 million movie coming out who also happens to be gay and in the closet and featured in a cell phone video going down on a transgender person. This has Ray’s clients apoplectic (screaming! screaming! screaming!) about how a “fag” is going to lose them all a lot of money. Nothing subtle about this bit of plotting. Austin Nichols is very sexy and fairly adorable as the action star, and does what he can with a character circa a 1981 TV movie, but really, this storyline is so tired and clearly satisfying to straight studio execs that it’s eye-rolling. Ray even swindles the Jew-producer out of money for the “tranny’s” (the show’s word) sex-change operation, who cries in gratitude when Ray’s lesbian assistant (The L Word’s Katherine Moennig playing herself again) stops by a “tranny-infested” apartment building to give “Chloe” the cash.
The Child Molesters
Wow, they’re everywhere! In flashbacks, where the guy driving pushes a kid’s head into his lap; in church, where Ray’s dad (Voight), blows away a priest; in a hot tub, where action star Tommy flirts with Ray’s teenage son (Devon Bagby), and later flirts with him over text from the Voyages rehab center where he’s checked himself in for sex addiction after Ray has set him up with a dead, female hooker to cover his gay tracks, while the kid lies in bed texting back and smiling; in the haunted expressions of Ray’s Southie brothers, some or all of whom have been victims of priests or their dad or each other or who knows which pedo, because they are literally everywhere.
Like child molesters, or because of them, Scotch is everywhere. Ray drinks Glenlivet in his 20th floor Hollywood pied-a-terre while dealing with memories of child molestation and/or beating people with a baseball bat. Cheaper than therapy, Tony Soprano? Ray’s wife drinks it while sneaking cigarettes and waiting for Ray to come home from his pied-a-terre where he’s drinking it. They’re from Bahston!
This show has everything! Ray is on the trail of a client’s cheating girlfriend, who turns out to be a Brittany Spears type he’d “fixed” for years earlier and she was always into him. He finds her doing yoga in Malibu (yup) and before you know it she’s drinking vodka out of a bottle and mounting Ray and then bam! she has an epileptic fit, right there in Ray’s lap. Can’t make this stuff up. Oh wait, someone did.
The Parkinson’s and More
Just when you thought this show had everything: more! Ray’s collection of loser brothers hang out at their Hollywood boxing gym, where one is a trying-to-recover alcohol and drug addict (child molesters), one has Parkinson’s brought on by too much boxing (and/or child molesters, stay tuned) and a third is the illegitimate half-black son of Voight and his all-black girlfriend (Voight’s character’s first stop out of prison is with her or someone like her and they’re smoking the crack).
For the last few years, fans have been waiting for Shreiber to be back on screen doing something great. Well, he’s back now, but his character, so far, is just a cipher. He broods. He looks great in tight $300 jeans. He beats people up. But he’s got that horrifying accent to contend with, and silly plots, and a giant chip on his shoulder in the form of his father, and lots of ghosts, and the prospect of revelations that are as predictable as the stereotypes that populate his world. But Shreiber is so dependable an actor that it’s worth hanging out to learn what happens anyway. Biderman is no Douglas Sirk, but Ray Donovan may turn out to be, despite everything wrong with it, a strangely satisfying melodrama.