Ray Donovan on Showtime

ray1This time of year may not be specifically the start of a new TV season, but with hundreds of channels available and new series ending their runs, summer offers up several new series. Among them, “Dexter,” “Breaking Bad,” “True Blood,” “Under the Dome,” “The Bridge,” and one that I got a sneak peek of – “Ray Donovan.” Check out my review of the pilot, after the jump.

The new Showtime series “Ray Donovan” was created by Ann Biderman, who wrote the screenplays for Primal Fear and Copycat, won an Emmy for “NYPD Blue,” and also created “Southland.” She has a good sense of character and grit, always a fun ride when she’s involved. Rumor has it that David S. Goyer, of Dark City, the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, and JSA comics, is the show’s cinematographer. Is there more than one Goyer in Hollywood? Either way, this should be interesting.

Liev Schreiber plays the title role. Schreiber has been around for almost two decades, was in the Scream films, but he never really caught my attention until RKO 281, a terrific flick about Orson Welles’ struggles to make Citizen Kane – which I absolutely loved, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine where he played Sabretooth. Did I love the latter? Well, I’ll be nice, let’s just say, Sabretooth was no Orson Welles.

ray2One thing I will say about pay cable television, it gives an actor room to move, to flex those performance muscles. Schreiber may not have been in my radar before, but I’m thinking “Ray Donovan” is something special. The pilot proves that RKO 281 was no fluke, Schreiber can act.

Schreiber plays Ray Donovan, a fixer, an enforcer, you might call him. He fixes problems, with discretion of course, for those rich and famous enough to pay him. It’s sort of like a high stakes Hollywood version of ABC’s “Scandal.” That alone would be enough set-up for any TV series. But there’s more.

The story, and the first episode “The Bag or The Bat,” starts with Ray’s father Mickey however, as he is released from prison. Played by Jon Voight, who hasn’t had the best luck the last few decades, Mickey has something to prove, and something on his mind – revenge and reconciliation. I hope, as a fan of Voight from the 1970s, TV might give him some room to strut his stuff as well. It’s a good cast, mostly unknowns (to me at least), and it was also good to see Elliot Gould and Denise Crosby back on the screen as well.

ray3The crazed relationship between father and son is the subtextual crux of the series. Add in Ray’s semi-sitcom family, cookie cutter crew and clients, and dysfunctional brothers, and there’s your show. And honestly, if it wasn’t about theoretically amoral characters who do anything for money, it could easily be a sitcom. With violence. And fewer jokes. Or maybe not.

Despite all I’ve said, you might think I didn’t like it, but no, I dig it quite a bit, and it’s also much much more serious than I’ve made it sound. Despite its structure, there are no laughs. This is a terrific new drama from Showtime. It’s dark, fun, and gritty, and it kind of reminded me of early episodes of “The Sopranos” in that it couches violence in a shroud of normalcy. I liked “Ray Donovan” a lot, check it out, it debuts this Sunday, June 30th on Showtime, right after the final season premiere of “Dexter.”

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