Is “Ray Donovan” TV’s Most Offensive Show?



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.

The Premise

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.

The Jews

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.

The “Fags”

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.

The Scotch

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!

The Epilepsy

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).


Ray Donovan

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.

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  • Brian

    Sounds like Ray Donovan might be homophobic towards male homosexuality. Make sure you tell your friends to avoid it. Ann Biderman is a c#nt.

  • rcs831

    It sounds like they are just throwing everything into the mix hoping it will catch on.

  • gppm1103

    @Brian: Why is Biderman so awful? I practically live for Southland. Give us your reason.

  • balehead

    A great show!! Don’t listen to the PC haters!!

  • uwsguy400

    why do all shows have to be so PC??!! com’on this is one of the best shows on TV. and why do they have to answer all questions in the first two episodes? we want some mystery in the show. Sunday nights are the best now, with Dexter and Ray Donovan. This summer will rock!

  • Jackhoffsky

    Wait, so it’s King of the Hill goes to Hollywood?

    Then again, I’m the only person not watching Game of Thrones, so don’t listen to me…

  • BJ McFrisky

    @balehead: Right on.
    Odd article. Even Greg Owen, the author, states that it might be a “satisfying melodrama” after he trashes it for 11 or so paragraphs.
    And if there truly are people out there who still freak out when someone uses the word “fag” in any context, then you need to reevaluate your sensitivity meter, because it’s way too sensitive.

  • the other Greg

    There’s not just a problem of “PC”-ness, as Balehead thinks, but apparently the bigger problem of practically all the facts being wrong and nobody giving a sh1t.

    This show does sound “offensive” to me, as a non-native who lived in Boston for 20+ years & had several native bf’s – but more importantly it sounds wildly inaccurate. I’d guess the writers have never been to South Boston, except that from the description here, they don’t seem to know much about L.A. show business people either when they’re actually working in show business in L.A.

    Anyway, if Balehead and BJ McFrisky like it, that’s proof it’s for morons.

  • BJ McFrisky

    @the other Greg:
    Thanks for the “moron” comment, Greg. It always makes me smile when “tolerant” Lefties show their true colors of intolerance toward anyone who won’t agree with them.
    By the way, it’s a fictional TV show—it doesn’t need to get its facts right any more than “The Sopranos” did. Hate to break it to you, but if you want to watch something factually accurate, you’ll need to change the channel from Showtime.

  • the other Greg

    @BJ McFrisky: As I’ve said before, I don’t know where you conservatives ever got the crazy idea that lefties all think of ourselves as “tolerant.” This was maybe a Rush L. meme from the ’90s that caught on with you folks. We reserve the right to be as intolerant of stupidity as anyone.

    Fictional TV shows need to be believable, at least, or they don’t work. But okay, if I want something fictional and totally unbelievable, I can read the Republican Party platform!

  • Ajai

    The shows okay. I don’t love it, or hate it yet. Kinda slow, but not overly boring. I do think articles like this are just thinly veiled advertisements for the shows they’re about.

  • the other Greg

    @BJ McFrisky: Actually that’s not a bad analogy, since you probably recall that “The Sopranos” got a LOT of flak at first for being offensive to Italian-Americans. Over time they warmed to it, and it wouldn’t have worked if it had stuck strictly to cartoon stereotypes, or had got the accents/lingo all wrong, or got geographical facts wrong… or I dunno, portrayed Essex County people as mostly Mets fans when they’re in reality mostly Yankee fans… they could have got a million things WRONG that in the end they didn’t get wrong.

    So supposing this turkey is salvageable (I doubt it), I’d have a lot of suggestions but for starters, I’ll say lose the scotch. I’ve never known a Boston Irish person to drink scotch! Irish whiskey, sure… American bourbon, all kinds of whiskey, even Canadian… but why the fuck would they drink scotch? Maybe the writers read someplace that Whitey Bulger drinks scotch? – but he’s 85 years old and probably wears a fedora to court (don’t pay too much attention to that trial, btw).

  • Niall

    The fact that the two people who have said it’s good [email protected]BJ McFrisky: and @balehead: two of the worst commenters here, I’m tempted to think it probably is really horrible and offensive.

  • Niall

    Never liked Liev Schreiber anyways, so I’d never have had any desire to watch it

  • Steverino77

    Enough of the overly critical whining. The show is great. Hollywood can be a very very bad place. And like most things out of Hollywood, Ray Donovan exaggerates the sins of its modern day tinsel town for dramatic effect. I agree they’re throwing a few too many things in the plot mix, but it’s still compelling drama. I especially love how Ray’s wife does yoga, has detox drinks, cigarettes and Scotch all in the same day. And in terms of screaming Jewish agents, that character is definitely redundant — no one will ever out Ari Gold Ari Gold.

  • Jay

    It’s the best show I’ve seen since Entourage. I can’t wait for the next episode.

  • Icebloo

    No gay person should be supporting ANYTHING Jon Voight does. Jon is a right wing EXTREMIST. He hates gay people. HBO should not be employing him !

  • Cyn

    I’ve watched two episodes so far. I didn’t find it anymore offensive than any other violence based program on cable, and a lot better than others. And I’ll agree with Icebloo about Jon Voight, but the character is so despicable we get to hate him from the beginning. I’m hoping they kill him off soon. The graphic arm breaking was a bit much but taught me another trick. Don’t like it, don’t watch it like any other show.

  • stfallon1028

    What kind of world do we live in where Liev Shreiber is allowed to have his own show??!! I ask you!

  • Steverino77

    And one more comment — Ray Donovan is way more entertaining the other mid-summer drama to premiere — Under the Dome, which has 2-dimensional characters, connect-the-dot plotting, and an overly PC story line about two lesbian moms (why is every other lesbian portrayed as an AA with funky eyeglasses and a shaved head?) caught in the small minded town with their rebellious teen daughter with EPILEPSY! It’s the season of epilepsy subplots!!

  • rcblue73

    So the theme of this program seems to be that male homosexuality is the product of child molestation or at least that’s how the writers of this program interpret things. Oh – and that Jews are really despicable people…sounds like a program the religious right would enjoy.

  • Eiswirth

    So just because DOMA is dead homophobia has disappeared? People in CA can’t be from MA? Screaming Jews? A brooding lead? Give me a break. It’s a terrific show with a great cast and so far — its TWO episodes — have shown great promise. Much more realistic than 90 percent of the crap on TV and cable. I’m hooked.

  • connorlarkin19

    I agree with you. The first show was slow developing its space and personalities. The second show got just about all the characters and stereotypes right–there are lots of truth to stereotypes.

    All the HEADINGS are simply inaccurate and just ‘cheap talk like a Baptist minister’: the facts and historical record undercut the lazy essay.

    Is the critic an ex-ex fundamentalist Pastord making stuff up?

    Ok, where to start with the historical record: 1. yes, there WERE Jewish mobsters and Mafia vs. Italian Mafia, Meyer Lansky, Abe Landau, see Wiki-pedia, 2. Southies in Hollywood, Mmm, with 30 million plus Calis, I bet there are more than one Southie crook, think Whitey Bulger in Santa Monica, etc etc

  • mattsy

    Wendy Williams loves this show!!!

  • BlumpyJoe

    Oh my gosh, guys! Can you believe there’s a show about bad people, and the bad people aren’t a part of the Straight-Gay alliance?! This show is terrible!!!!

    But seriously, Mr Greg Owen – Mr “I have 2 first names” – put away the glitter war paint for one second and get over yourself. If we take a step back any think about things rationally, we are making fantastic progress if *this* is the most offensive show on television.

    Let’s worry about the real bigots instead of the fake ones, and focus on celebrating real icons like Laverne Cox or Billy Porter. Let’s celebrate instead of hold onto the hate like the Pat Robertsons and Westboros of the world.

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