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TV Review: ‘Ray Donovan’ Season One, Episode One – ‘The Bag or the Bat’

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Liev Schreiber, Elliot Gould, Jon Voigt together in a TV series. Who would have thought it, Three respected film stars on series television. It’s not so strange anymore, and certainly not on premium cable. This week premieres Showtime’s latest outing simply called Ray Donovan. Originally from South Boston, Ray Donovan (Schreiber) is an L.A. fixer. He works for a high powered Hollywood law firm owned by Ezra Goodman (Gould).    When something goes horrible wrong with a celebrity (perhaps a married sports figure with lots of endorsement money who wakes up after a night of sex in bed with a woman dead of a drug overdose), Goodman’s aide de camp Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson, House) gives a shout to Ray and he scrambles his team together to make the problem go away. Sometimes fortune smiles and two disconnected problems conveniently connect to create a win-win situation, but often not.

Liev Schreiber in Ray Donovan

Liev Schreiber in Ray Donovan

Donovan has plenty of personal problems. His wife is unhappy living in suburbia (although why they are living there and not in the city is unknown by the end of episode one); one brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok), a wreck of a man is a victim of priestly pedophilia  the other (Terry, played by British actor Eddie Marsan) has Parkinsons. His sister committed suicide years earlier, and is a source of unending sorrow for Ray. The three brothers are close, and when their criminal father is released from prison years early, it creates big problems for Ray. Mickey Donovan (Voigt) is trouble, and Ray wants nothing to do with him, wanring his family to stay away, but Mickey wants to see his grandchildren and reconnect. And the way Voigt plays him, it is very hard to tell whether Mickey means good or harm by inserting himself back into Ray’s life.

Created by Ann Biderman (Southland), Ray Donovan is underpinned by some great performances and an intriguing storyline. There is tension between Ray and just about everyone, from his wife to his father, even to his brothers and co-workers, and Mickey is a real wild card. Schreiber makes a great noir anti-hero, and he can brood with the best of ‘em. His world weariness, underlaying a toughness, but also a genuine nobility and moral code make for a compelling character.

If the series suffers from anything it is a from painting the characters with slightly too broad ethnic strokes. Everything about Ray and his wife and brothers scream South Boston Irish Catholic. Gould’s Ezra, who has just lost his wife and has begun to use use Yiddish and seems to have found his Jewish soul, much to everyone’s surprise is the stereotype of New York Jew tearing his hair out (loudly) in the aftermath of a such a loss.

I think once the show finds it rhythm, these things will likely settle down in the confident hands of such masterful actors. I will continue to tune into the show as the summer goes on, delighted that I can fill my summer Sunday evenings with well done television offerings.

What did you think of the premiere? Let us know in the comments below! Ray Donovan airs on Showtime Sunday nights at 10 p.m.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Mort Adella

    Wanted to like this show but too many goddamn stereotypes. It also steals so much from the Sopranos. Total crap!