I’m often very dubious about shows and movies that use someone’s name as the title because it doesn’t tell me anything about the genre. I’m none the wiser about deciding whether to tune in or not, so the marketers still have their work cut out for them.
Showtime, which is now wrapping up its singular moniker series Dexter, is now launching its next big hope Ray Donovan.
Liev Schrieber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Scream, The Sum of All Fears) stars in the title role as an LA fix-it man to Hollywood’s elite. His clients include sports stars, movie stars, moguls and businessmen who need their tracks covered, their affairs concealed and their damage controlled. In this town there’s plenty of work for Ray.
Ray lives in a swish abode in the Valley, with wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) and his teen kids Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and Conor (Devon Bagby). Abby and Ray share a tempestuous domestic life, with her barely tolerating his behaviour. She’s frustrated at his constant lack of full disclosure and there’s sick of his philandering nature.
But the family knows even less of Ray’s father Mickey (Jon Voight) who has just been released from prison after 20 years with scores to settle. Ray and Mickey don’t see eye to eye despite coaxing from Ray’s brothers, boxing gym owner Terry (Ray Marsan) and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), who we learn was abused by a priest when he was younger.
Other key characters include Ray’s staffers, tough-guy Avi (Steven Bauer) and researcher Lena (Katherine Moennig), plus his mentor Ezra (Elliott Gould).
In the opening episode Ray has to cover the tracks of a sports superstar after he awakens next to a girl found dead in his bed, an A-list movie star caught up with a transgender prostitute and a mogul trying to keep an affair from getting out.
Ray manoeuvres between them all with confidence and lies, but never leaving any fingerprints to be found. There is manipulation of the media (some stuff is deliberately leaked to TMZ), but always with a greater masterplan at play. As an audience we are already challenged on the virtues, or lack thereof, of this flawed lead character.
Schrieber is excellent as the strong, silent Donovan. He anchors this with so much gravitas that it’s easy to see why the series has been named after its central figure. But he is matched by Voight as his menacing, lowlife father. Paula Malcomson as Abby will presumably be the moral compass of this story given most of the other central roles move within shadows.
Ray Donovan steps out as a solid character drama, created by Ann Biderman (Southland) and will appeal to those who have enjoyed more cynical looks at Hollywood in works such as Californication and Entourage, although this one plays it tough and straight.
I’m not so sure it will match the kind of flashy buzz of the departing Dexter or other cable hits like True Blood and Game of Thrones, but it deminstrates plenty of layers and should certainly put forward some names on America’s annual awards lists.
Ray Donovan premieres 8:30pm Tuesday on Showcase.