Showtime missed an opportunity for enhanced publicity when it scheduled the premiere of “Ray Donovan” for today (Sunday, June 30) instead of two weeks ago on Father’s Day.
Above all else, this macho series about a man who “fixes” Hollywood scandals is really about the relationship between this man and his father — plus the man’s two brothers and their relationships with the same dad.
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Liev Schreiber plays the scowling, unshaven title character — a man whose origin story goes back to Boston’s tough South End — the storied neighborhood of, seemingly, tight-knit blue-collar roughnecks that is often trotted out as the back-story location for tough-guy characters in a number of TV shows and movies.
In “Ray Donovan,” Schreiber’s character is based in Hollywood in the present day — where he works for a powerful law firm as the man who gets called upon to take extra-legal (or downright illegal) measures to “take care of” various “situations.”
In Sunday night’s series premiere, for example, Ray is called upon to “handle” a blackmail scheme in which a transvestite has targeted the young star of profitable action movies. Ray also is assigned to chase off (or scare off) a stalker who’s peeping into the windows of a young actress who is the mistress of one of the firm’s lawyers.
The story of Ray’s professional life is interwoven with his private life — where the players include his wife (Paula Malcomson) and their daughter and son, his two brothers — ex-boxer Terry (Eddie Marsan) and alcohol-and-drug addicted “Bunchy” (Dash Mihok) — and their father, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight), who is released from a Massachusetts prison in the premiere after 20 years and immediately heads to southern California to reunite with his family. However, where Ray is concerned, this “reunion” really amounts to an ongoing confrontation stemming from past situations that are only vaguely illuminated in the first four episodes of “Ray Donovan” that Showtime gave us to preview.
Which is to say: Ray’s family back story is revealed gradually — which is characteristic of many of these made-for-cable drama series.
Like other characters ranging from Tony Soprano to Don Draper, Ray’s challenge is to balance the pressures and commitments of his professional life with his obligations to his family. And since his profession requires him to often disappear at odd hours in the middle of the night, this creates pressure on his marriage — especially because he often returns from these odd absences splattered with someone else’s blood (and sometimes his own). Plus, he doesn’t seem especially happy about the nature of his work. To put it bluntly, he can be a moody S.O.B. at times — which frustrates those around him, particularly his wife.
Also in the cast of “Ray Donovan”: Steven Bauer, who’s great to see as one of Ray’s aides — a brawny can-do Israeli named Avi whose own back story seems to include all sorts of special-ops and surveillance training; and Elliott Gould as Ezra, the senior partner in the law firm Ray works for.
“Ray Donovan” premieres Sunday, June 30, at 10 p.m. (9c) on Showtime.