Third-episode verdict: Ray Donovan (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

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

Showtime’s Ray Donovan had something of a rocky start, as far as The Barrometer was concerned. Created by Southland‘s Ann Biderman and starring Liev Schreiber, John Voight and Eddie Marsen, it sees Schreiber as an LA fixer, sorting out the problems of the rich and famous with a combination of sensitivity, money and a good old Boston baseball bat. At the same time, he’s having to deal with his just-released father (Voight), whom he put in prison himself and who wants in on Schreiber’s family, whether he wants it or not.

The first episode did the typical thing of throwing every plot strand going at the camera in the hope the audience would find something they liked. And clearly that worked, judging by the ratings, but it did make it harder to judge what kind of show it was going to end up being: a show about fixing stars’ problems or a show about a Boston gangster and his family issue. 

Two episodes in… and it’s still hard to work out since although everything’s a little slower paced, both aspects are being maintained in equal proportions. Schreiber is still fixing problems, sometimes with that baseball bat, sometimes with words and money. And this side of things is still pretty well done, with Schreiber turning out to be the most liberal, sensitive gangster around – must be a California thing – offering kindness and compassion to blackmailing trans prostitutes, creepy stalkers and declining drug addicts alike.

At the same time, he’s also dealing with his wife (who has issues with his lack of fidelity), his father (whom he wants back in prison) and his brothers, who are all hanging around with his dad too much. Then there’s the dead priest, the next door neighbour’s kid, all the ‘secrets’ about why Donovan helped Elliott Gould to get his dad into prison and so on. It’s not Game of Thrones, I know, but it’s a pretty crowded storyline.

But the latest two episodes have given the show a little more breathing space. Some of the characters aren’t being that well served (Donovan’s lesbian assistant, his son) but it’s now possible to get more of a grip on the show and to enjoy it, rather than endure it is it blasts past you. There’s also some humour, albeit pretty dark humour largely around Voight and his lack of understanding of the world outside prison.

It still has obvious problems, not least its treatment of women, who are second-fiddle to the men and/or maltreated at every turn. The Boston accents veer from “almost believable” (Schreiber) through to “terrible” (Voight), and there are some dodgy racial stereotypes as well as Boston ones to deal with to. But although it’s no Southland in the believability stakes, it’s now become a pretty watchable drama, so you might want to give it a try.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s predictions: Should last a good few seasons


  • 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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