Note: this is an early spoiler-lite review for the pilot episode of Ray Donovan, which premieres June 30 on Showtime. If you don’t want to know anything about the first episode, stop reading now!
Showtime’s new original series Ray Donovan stars Liev Schrieber as the title character, a ‘fixer’ who helps LA’s rich and famous, all the while being unable to resolve his own personal issues.
The pilot quickly introduces us to Ray’s day-to-day as he makes the problems of his Hollywood clients disappear. Ray is slick and has a crack team to help him pull the strings of misdirection, rather like a magician he creates an illusion for the media before quietly slipping away through the trapdoor.
While this early set up is a bit cursory, it’s only the bread and butter to the reality of Ray’s own personal demons. That’s where the real serial element kicks in. At home, he’s unfaithful to his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) and struggles to fully connect with his children. His brothers, Terry (Eddie Marsan), an ex-boxer with Parkinson’s disease, and Bunchy (Dash Mihok) who was molested by a priest as a child and struggles with addiction, rely on him to be the family glue.
But the biggest conflict rears its head when he discovers that his manipulative father Mickey (Jon Voight), who has been in jail for 20 years, has been released five years early and is making a bee-line to LA for a family reunion.
When they finally do reunite the raw contempt that Ray has for his father is palpable and he threatens to kill Mickey if he goes near his family. Of course, that’s exactly what Mickey does before the credits roll, suggesting a burgeoning affinity with Abby who welcomes him with open arms. With the hour also revealing that Ray has a half brother named Daryll (Pooch Hall), the fixer finds himself out-numbered against his father’s powers of manipulation.
By the end of the episode we have a few intriguing hints at the larger threads that will be unravelled over the course of the season, not least the suggestion that Ray was responsible for Mickey being sent down and hints that Mickey will manipulate Ray to help him rebuild his former empire and dodge the many bullets that seem lined up for him now that’s he’s no longer behind bars.
Not everything lands snugly in first episode and the “fixer” subplots could drag the show down (I realize it’s part of the conceit), but allowing for world building, Ray Donovan makes a promising start with just enough signs of an interesting serial story — and with Dexter departing this year, it could be just in time too.
- Ray begins the episode as the calmest person in LA, but ends it by threatening to kill his dad and by taking the bat (not the bag) to a stalker.
- Mickey’s first act when he gets out of prison? He kills the priest who presumably molested Bunchy. I thought that was interesting, seemed as though he found out about this while in jail.
- It’s going to be interesting to see how the series blends the ‘fix of the week’ plots with the ongoing serial narrative. I’m obviously hoping the later not only takes president but has the legs to drive multiple seasons.
- What I didn’t necessarily expect from the episode, and something I hope we see more of, were the ‘heightened’ elements when Ray slips into a dreamlike state. It’s not on that level yet, and may never be, but it gave the episode that Breaking Bad/Hannibal-type vibe.
- Enjoyed Schrieber and Voight in their roles, looking forward to seeing what they do with these characters.
- If you missed it earlier, you can watch the full pilot online here ahead of the Sunday, June 30 (10pm) premiere.
8/10 Seriable Stars