So, you want a job as a fixer, and there’s multiple choice on the licensing exam.
Problem: you have a stalker on your hands. What do you do with him?
A. Get a restraining order
B. Dunk him in a tub full of green dye
C. Beat him with a baseball bat
D. B & C
If you’re Ray Donovan and you want to pass this test, you pick: D.
That’s really what happened in the premiere of ‘Ray Donovan’, Showtime’s new series, starring Liev Schreiber. He ‘fixes’ problems for the big Hollywood names, and he’s very good at what he does. Except when he’s kissing the clientele.
(‘Fixing,’ by the way, seems to be a recurring theme in Hollywood movies – ‘Point of No Return’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ come to mind – so maybe it really IS a profession, and I just missed out.)
I suppose the bigger question is: would I watch it again? And the answer is: yes. Liev Schreiber smoldered onscreen as Ray, never more so than when he confronted his father Mick (played by Jon Voight), who Ray sent to jail twenty years before. In this episode, Mick got paroled, offed the priest who molested his son, and headed out to California for a family reunion.
Nobody in this family likes being told what to do. Ray’s wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) is on the verge of walking out on him; she expresses her hate for California in a colorful Jersey accent. She ignores Ray’s warning that she shouldn’t let Mick back in their lives. Meanwhile, Ray’s brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is tormented by his past as a molestation victim. He copes by abusing alcohol and cocaine. Terry (Eddie Marsan), another brother, keeps boxing even though he suffers from Parkinson’s.
Most of the time, Ray projects a stoic expression. He owns the highway, cutting people off as he conducts business via speakerphone. His shtick is to remain in control, while everyone around him falls apart. When he does lose it, his magnetism ratio only goes up. And so the show’s producers have a problem: how to make Schreiber tormented, believable and appealing, all at the same time? He definitely does sexy...Mmm, yes. Can he do subtle? I like him, but the element of surprise is very important for keeping viewers. Show me some depth. He has to be more than a thug with a bat. Voight’s character Mick promises to introduce plenty of conflict, a criminal in a family that tries to steer towards good, but fails. Mick does glamorous things like leering at breastfeeding mothers, dancing in a towel to funky music and snorting cocaine with his son. Live it up.
But spare me cartoonish scenes like the one where Marilyn Monroe’s picture talks to Donovan. He imbibed a little too much, and off he went to la-la land. The subsequent flashback/memory of his sister jumping to her death lost the edge it might’ve had otherwise.
It’s a good show, with plenty of threads to keep me thoroughly tied up in future episodes. I just hope that Schreiber – and the writers – can carry it off.