Preview: Ray Donovan 1×1 (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)

Liev Schreiber is Hollywood's Mr Wolf

Ray Donovan

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, Showtime. Starts June 30
In the UK: Tuesdays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 16th

There’s presumably rather a lot of sh*t going down in LA, thanks to a combination of huge amounts of money and the number of famous people with personality issues, addictions and secrets they’d rather people didn’t know about them. So equally presumably there’s a group of people whose life it is to help cover up the inevitable colossal cock-ups that result from the collision of these things.

Ray Donovan, created by Southland‘s Ann Biderman, looks at one such man, the eponymous Ray Donovan (Live Schreiber, last seen doing TV work on CSI) – the Mr Wolf of the entertainment business…

…for whom no clean-up job, whether it be a stalker, a dead woman or a ‘straight’ actor who likes to pick up gay, transvestite hookers, is too hard and who’ll stop at nothing, even murder, if he has, too. The only thing he can’t fix? His relationships, particularly when his father (Jon Voight) comes out of prison and starts to put his nose into his family’s affairs. Here’s a trailer, and if you’re in the US, the entire first episode for you to enjoy.

Set in the sprawling mecca of the rich and famous, Ray Donovan does the dirty work for LA’s top power players. The new one-hour series stars Emmy® and Golden Globe® Award nominee Liev Schreiber in his first lead television role as the go-to guy who makes the problems of the city’s celebrities, superstar athletes, and business moguls disappear. This powerful drama unfolds when his father, played by Oscar® winner Jon Voight, is unexpectedly released from prison, setting off a chain of events that shakes the Donovan family to its core.

Is it any good?
It’s pretty good, but it shares the same strengths and weaknesses as Biderman’s Southland did when it started.

The show’s strengths are its cast and setting. Schreiber, with near X-Men: Origins – Wolverine sideburns, and Voight are great, naturally, although there’s some ‘interesting’ accent work going on. But Eddie Marsan does well, too, as Ray’s boxer brother; Katherine Moennig (The L-Word) is icily business-like as Ray’s business manager; and Elliott Gould is… Elliott Gould. It’s also got a good guest cast, including Austin Nichols (John From Cincinnati himself) and Peter Jacobson (Taub from House).

Donovan’s clean-up work is the other strength of the show. While it’s hard to entirely credit all the actions depicted as realistic – although truth is often stranger than fiction – the show depicts it authentically enough that you largely can believe that these things happen. Even if they couldn’t, its commentary on the nature of society – that it’s worse for an actor’s career to be found in the company of a gay transvestite prostitute than it is for him to be found with a dead woman who has over-dosed on cocaine – certainly rings true.

Where it slightly falls apart, as Southland did during its first season, is in the personal lives of the characters, which is much of the show’s focus. There’s child abuse by a Catholic priest, drug addiction, affairs, a brother with Parkinson’s, murder, a long-last black half-brother, a father who’s been in prison, prostitutes, near-jailbait stalker actresses, and on and on. It’s too much. Too much to care about, too thinly drawn, and too implausible.

The show definitely needs a little time to find its feet. As always, series tend to top-load these things, so once the density of all these storylines thins out, they should be more palatable. However, the indications are that the family, particularly Voight’s father character, are going to be the main focus of the show, rather than Donovan’s clean-up service, so I can’t see it getting much better, unless the producers have a substantial rethink. And there’s nothing in the pilot that ever hits the highs of Southland – no line of dialogue, scenario or interaction that really lifts this out of the ordinary, dark, FX-style show into something premium cable.

So an interesting watch, particularly for Schreiber, but I don’t think this’ll be a keeper.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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