First, I should probably confess that, for the life of me, I can't ever remember the name of this series. I keep wanting to call it "Ray Romano." I suspect I'm not alone, but in any case forgive me if I accidentally refer to Ray Donovan under that title. Regardless, Ray Donovan - that's Donovan (2013-present), is a darkly amusing if wearingly despairing Showtime crime drama starring Liev Schreiber as the titular "fixer" for super-powerful L.A. entertainment law firm of Goldman & Drexler.
The series is a kind of "The Sopranos Go West," with transplanted Bostonian gangster Ray and his family still adjusting to the superficial glamour, absurd demands, and painfully frivolous lifestyles of Hollywood's 1%, clueless, self-absorbed, flavor-of-the-month celebrities who turn to Ray for an easy out when threatened with potentially career-ending scandals.
The series, created by Ann Biderman (Southland), operates on two levels, partly focusing on Ray's increasingly chaotic home life, threatened when his profoundly profane gangster father, Mickey (Jon Voight) is unexpectedly paroled, thus coming between Ray, his wife and children, as well as his adult brothers. Balanced with this are sordid tales chronicling Ray's demanding job, mostly threatening, following, and sometimes committing assault and worse against opportunists, perverts, and innocent bystanders standing in the way between the uber-rich and Goldman & Drexler's bank accounts.
The series offers scads of fine acting, with Voight afforded a particularly showy, grotesquely crude character part in which he excels. There's also a nice balance of new and middle-aged talent with some fine old pros added to the mix. It's a funny, sad, alternately appalling and even at times sweet series for a mature audience. It's extremely violent but only occasionally, with profanity and much sexual explicitness dominating.
Paramount/Showtime's Blu-ray set of Season One has flawless transfers of all 12 episodes, running an average of 52 minutes apiece (with some running close to an hour; others less than 50 minutes).
Most of Ray Donovan's back story, information about Ray's past, the circumstances of Mickey's arrest, the reasons for his parole and his contentious, estranged relationship with Ray, are revealed gradually over the course of season one. Suffice to say Ray is a highly-paid, valuable if occasionally loose-cannon employee of entertainment attorneys Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould), Ray's mentor, recently widowed and behaving erratically since his wife's death; and Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson), a demanding younger partner possessing all the qualities everyone hates about lawyers. Assisting Ray are right-hand man Avi (Steven Bauer), with his own mysterious past; and Lena (Katherine Moennig), who handles the press and monitors everything from a bank of laptops.
Ray lives in a sprawling house in unfashionable Calabasas. Nevertheless, Ray's long-suffering wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), wants the best schools and the most stable family environment and community standing for their two teenage children, Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and Conor (Devon Bagby).
Mickey's sudden release from prison splinters Ray's barely-held-together world. Mickey visits his grandkids and daughter-in-law in secret, and moves in on Ray's troubled brothers: Bunchy (Dash Mihok), raped by a priest years before, he's now an alcoholic and sexual anorexic; and Terry (Eddie Marsan), a former boxer suffering from Parkinson's disease. Additionally, Mickey introduces the trio to their half-brother Daryll (Pooch Hall), whose black mother, Claudette (Sheryl Lee Ralph) was Mickey's former lover.
Ray is a man of few words, an underworld Clint Eastwood, who maintains his cool and prefers to use his considerable wits to navigate his amoral, self-absorbed clients out of their self-destructive jams. His imposing presence is often enough to scare off troublemakers, but he's neither averse to breaking bones nor clubbing them with a baseball bat when they refuse to budge. His expertise with such matters is in its way quite impressive, though like his clients Ray is himself self-defeating and barely able to hold it together, though a pillar of morality and strength compared to Mickey and Bunchy.
Voight is awesomely vulgar and insensitive as Mickey, the writers feeding the actor behavior and lines of dialogue so crude and shocking that, in Voight's hands, Mickey is instantly unforgettable, a character that cannot be unseen, like watching a stray dog getting hit by a speeding garbage truck.
The series also paints a disturbing portrait, probably pretty accurate, of the lengths the entertainment industry will go to protect their most valuable commodities: movie and music industry stars whose public image is often completely at odds with their private lives. The film draws, if vaguely, on rumors and scandals involving everyone from Tom Cruise and Eddie Murphy to Michael Jackson.
The series paints an engrossing portrait of the mostly unhappy super-rich, who live in spectacularly beautiful homes (good use is made of the show's L.A. locations) but whose delusions, compulsive neuroses, and unorthodox sexual appetites constantly get them into jams. Some believe simply throwing money at a problem will make it go away, and in effect that describes Ray's job precisely.
Ironically, and this is not lost on Ray Donovan's audience, is that Mickey, awful though he his, is virtually the only adult character not struggling internally, so oblivious is he to all the pain around him, much of which he has caused. The bad truly sleep well.
Video & Audio
Shot for 1.78:1 high-def broadcast, Ray Donovan - Season One looks great, up to contemporary television standards. The 5.1 TrueHD audio is excellent, and supported by optional English SDH subtitles, along with French and Spanish audio. Twelve episodes are spread across three single-sided discs with a total running time of 10 hours and 32 minutes.
The lone extra is something called "Showtime Sync," which works only on Apple-related products, and of no use to this reviewer here in Japan.
The series is off to a very promising start and is Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.