Ray Donovan is a fixer for the rich and famous in LA, he spins and covers up stories they don’t want to come out and he’s pretty flexible on moral and legal lines when he does it. He’s also got problems with his family, his troubled brothers and his criminal father.
I commented on this new Showtime series when I was looking at the new and returning cable series around the upfronts in May. I said “The cast is impressive, but the trailer was a lot heavier than I was expecting and left me thinking it might be a good series, but not necessarily one I want to watch.” and I’m equal parts surprised and proud at just how accurate that statement turned out to be.
The cast is indeed impressive. Liev Schrieber (everything from Scream to the upcoming The Butler) and Jon Voight (everything from Deliverence to being Angelina Jolie’s dad) are familiar names to film buffs, Paula Malcolmson is familiar to TV fans (Deadwood, Caprica, Sons of Anarchy) and even teenage Kerris Dorsey has five years television experience from Brothers and Sisters. They all give interesting and layered performance and their characters certainly have the potential for plenty of material.
The story is likewise complicated and intriguing. Ray’s job requires him to think fast and come up with quirky and original solutions, he’s aided and confounded by his colleagues and bosses. His family life meanwhile requires him to be counsellor and cheerleader, helping one brother with the disabilities he suffered as a boxer, and the other with the long reaching effects of being molested by a priest as a child. Then there’s his father, a career criminal who Ray wants as far away from the rest of his family as possible.
It’s hard to find fault with the show, yet I didn’t like it. As I said based on the trailer, it was very heavy. Plot and characters come thick and fast and its a struggle to keep up, but by about half way through I was realising that I didn’t want to understand. Every piece of understanding just made the characters more complex and less people that I wanted to spend time with. I was glad when it was over because I just couldn’t face any more. It’s not that the characters are horrible, nor that they’re presented too much as victims, they really are interesting and complex. I just didn’t want to watch any longer.
As often happens with cable shows, I find myself writing a review that basically says – it’s good, maybe even great, but I won’t be watching. Maybe there’s a threshold factor that I can watch three of those shows but no more, or maybe I’m getting old and just don’t want to spend too much of my time on something that makes me sad. Either way, if you like and want to watch Ray Donovan, good luck to you, but I for one just can’t quite face it.
Ray Donovan airs on Sky Atlantic and has been picked up for a second season.