Jeff Riedel/Showtime

Ray Donovan: What You Need To Know

Running down some of the facts to get you up to speed on Showtime's new drama.

When I heard Liev Schreiber was going to be doing a TV series, my first thought was, "If it's not a TV adaptation of Goon, it's a missed opportunity and bullshit and I hate it." Well, as much as Ray Donovan sounds like the name of a hockey player (from the '70s, maybe), it's something totally different, but my initial response was months ago and I've had time to calm down. If not Goon (rrrrrr) (whoops, I guess I'm not over it after all!), what is Ray Donovan? Here are some salient facts to let you decide whether you need to get into it.

What is this thing?

Ray Donovan, weirdly enough, is about this guy Terry McClintock, who...just kidding. Schreiber plays the title character, a "fixer" working for various terrible people in L.A.; in the pilot, those include an athlete, a closeted action star, and a movie producer whose physical resemblance to Brian Grazer cannot possibly be a coincidence. Ray has moved to Los Angeles from Boston, where he is one of several extremely Boston-y brothers: Terry (Eddie Marsan) is a retired boxer who got Parkinson's from taking too many punches; and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), who was molested by a priest when he was a kid and is still messed up about it (and a user of various substances). Donovan père is Mickey, and is played by Jon Voight doing an okay Christopher Walken impression. As the series begins, Mickey gets out of prison and immediately re-offends; he then heads for Los Angeles, intending to weasel his way back into Ray's life -- and the lives of Ray's wife (Paula Malcomson) and kids, all of whom Ray acquired after Mickey went to prison, and whom he clearly never wanted to know Mickey.

Why now?

I assume because Dexter is ending and Showtime needs another testosterone-y hour-long to replace it?

What's its pedigree?

This is Schreiber's first real episodic TV effort since he was in a few C.S.I.s in 2007. Malcomson comes to us from Deadwood (and Caprica, but let's politely not mention that). Voight was in 24 and Lone Star but is, of course, best known as Angelina Jolie's scumbag father. Finally: the show was created by Ann Biderman, who also created Southland and wrote the screenplays for Copycat and Primal Fear.

...And?

Liev Schreiber is great, as always, and his version of a laconic Raylan Givens type but from Boston and on the wrong side of the law is fun enough. I also appreciate that the show revolves around an occupation that TV hasn't already driven into the ground -- it's always interesting to me to explore a new subculture -- and that the aftermath of Bunchy's abuse is being treated seriously; lots of shows throw it in (SVU) and use it to manipulate the audience without treating survivor characters as people.

...But?

Well, happy though I am to see Hey! It's That Guy! Josh Pais get a semi-starring role (he plays Feldman, the Grazer-ish producer), neither he nor Peter Jacobson, as an agent, is going to win any awards from the ADL for their roles, which rely pretty heavily on offensive stereotypes of Jews in the entertainment industry. Also coming off badly are basically all women except Ray's teenaged daughter, Bridget (Kerris Dorsey). The married Feldman sends Ray to tail Feldman's girlfriend, Ashley (Ambyr Childers), who turns out to be a former client with hot pants for Ray; though he's into it, he tries to break it off, whereupon she turns "crazy bitch" and contrives a meeting with Abby, Ray's wife. Ray is furious...but not so furious that he won't accept a blowjob from Ashley in his car! As for Abby, she's not only naggy and status-hungry but also shady as hell, setting up a meeting with Mickey behind Ray's back. Fortunately for my sex, there is, at least, Lena (Katherine Moennig), who works for Ray and seems smart and capable. She's also a lesbian, so maybe Biderman only hates women who sleep with men.

...So?

I can neither top nor dispute Mo Ryan's Donovan-inspired Anti-Hero Pop Quiz, which distills a lot of the show's problems into an amusing game format. And the woman problem is especially hard for me to get past. But for now, I'm compelled enough by Bunchy and Terry, and have enough residual affection for Schreiber (even though his wife-cheating, dad-hating character is kind of a snooze) to keep watching. I still wish it were Goon, though.

For Patriot Week we wonder:

How could Ray Donovan be more American?

It could be set in Texas. That's really actually it. Ray even beats up a guy with a baseball bat, for God's sake!

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