With Mad Men and Breaking Bad heading towards their final seasons, and The Sopranos fading into memory, the Age OF The Anti-Hero continues to push forward. The latest offering of conflicted, morally ambiguous protagonists comes from Showtime in the form of Ray Donovan. The show follows a Hollywood fixer who can fix anything (and here’s the pitch line) but his own family.
The show opens with an elderly man, later revealed to be Mickey Donovan, being released from jail. He is picked up by an unnamed driver, who hands him a mysterious bag. It’s night, the music is moody and dark, setting the ominous tone. They pull up to a church and Mickey takes a pistol out of the bag. He walks inside and finds the Priest in the back room, knelt in prayer. The Priest turns to look as a shocked expression forms on his face, and Mickey angrily shoots him in the head. The scene cuts to an alarm clock going off, and we find Ray Donovan walking up in bright and sunny Los Angeles. The new setting may be light and warm, but the shows dark tone has been established.
Ray is a fixer to celebrities. He’s the guy they call when they need a problem taken care of off the record, in less than legal methods. The first episode finds Ray and his team dealing with a NBA player who wakes up in bed with a woman dead of an overdose, and an up and coming action star who needs to dispel rumours about his sexuality. Ray is a professional, a smart and effective leader, and it only takes him a moment to come with a single solution to both of these problems. When Ray returns home we meet his family, a beautiful wife, a teenage daughter, and young son. Ray’s daughter is working on a family tree for a school project, and the Donovan side is mostly blank, foreshadowing the murky and complex relationship between the Donovans. Ray has been joined on the West Coast by his two brothers, one is a Parkinson’s afflicted former boxer, and the other is a struggling addict dealing with the emotional damage of childhood abuse. Their already dysfunctional family is about to get even more complicated with the news that their father Mickey has been released from jail five years early after serving two decades, and he’s coming west to meet them. And it was Ray who put him in jail.
First I’ll start with the positive things about the show, which primarily consists of the cast. All the cast members are great. Liev Schreiber exemplifies the modern silent anti-hero. His character is conflicted, a man who will do anything to protect his family, and accustomed to brutal violence. His brothers are damaged and desperate for anything that could improve their lives, and it makes sense they would welcome their father back with open arms. Mickey Donovan is played by Jon Voight, who would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor if this were a film. He is used sparingly throughout this episode, but his presence is never forgotten. It’s clear that despite his age, he is just as smart and driven as his son.
The issue that I have with show comes down to a matter of personal taste. I just feel a little burnt out on middle age white male anti hero protagonists who cheat on their wives. Ray feels like they wanted to combine Don Draper and Tony Soprano, and dump him in Los Angeles so we can watch him squirm around in the sun. If Live Schreiber wasn’t such a great actor in this part, it would feel really derivative. The pilot itself is just packed with so much information that it feels a little scattershot. Plot points in this episode includes: Priest murder, mental breakdowns, affairs with Disney princesses, stalkers, an unknown black half-brother, getting the kids into a good school, a hallucination of Marilyn Monroe begging Ray to save her, and featuring a couple of the broadest BAHston accents this side of Da Fighta.
I feel a little bit conflicted over Ray Donovan. Part of me feels like it’s more of the same, but there are enough moments of Ray being such a wicked hardass that I want to tune in again. Overall, I have to say that Ray Donovan is a descent pilot that enormously benefits from a great cast. I hope that latter episodes become a little more streamlined, and some of Ray’s more Don/Tony tendencies get toned downed. And more Jon Voight please, he’s awesome.
Pilot Grade: It’s a B- that the cast makes feel an A.