Jon Voight and Liev Schreiber
Move over, Olivia Pope. There’s a new fixer in TV Town.
Unlike Kerry Washington’s central female character on ABC’s soapy hit Scandal, Ray Donovan – the title character played by Liev Schreiber in a terrific new Showtime drama series premiering tonight – is decidedly masculine and based on the West Coast, but like Olivia, he earns his living helping power players sidestep potential career-ending scandals. You say you’re a Hollywood movie stud with a weakness for transvestites or a star athlete whose one-night stand is lying in your bed, dead of a drug overdose? Ray’s your guy.
Helping Ray rescue the rich and powerful are his two associates, an intimidating Israeli named Avi (Stephen Bauer) and tough-as-nails Lena (Katherine Moennig, The L Word). The trio does most of its work for the powerful law firm of Goldman/Drexler, headed by Ray’s increasingly eccentric mentor Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) and his high-strung partner, Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson, House).
It’s a rare professional challenge that Ray can’t handle without breaking a sweat, but he has less success on the homefront. His brother Terry (the great British character actor Eddie Marsan) struggles with Parkinson’s disease caused by spending too many years in the boxing ring, and kid brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) hasn’t been able to maintain sobriety since he was abused by a priest while the brothers Donovan were growing up in South Boston. Ray is convinced, however, that most of their problems can be traced back to their father, Mickey (Jon Voght), a brutal Irish gangster who gave his sons no emotional support and left them to fend for themselves.
Years ago, Ray moved his own family, along with Terry and Bunchy, to Los Angeles, hoping to make a fresh start far from the toxic influence of Mickey, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now, however, Mickey is out and heading for the City of Angels, determined to punish Ray and reclaim his position as patriarch of the Donovan clan. And sadly for Ray, his bitter wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson, Deadwood), a seething ball of resentment and jealousy over her husband’s imagined infidelities, is all too ready to offer Mickey easy access to their two teenage kids (Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby) just for the petty satisfaction of angering her husband.
Believe it or not, that extended back story just scratches the surface of the complicated emotional tapestry series creator Ann Biderman (the late, great Southland) has woven, brought to vivid life by this very gifted cast. There really isn’t a bad performance or a distractingly false note anywhere in the four episodes I’ve seen so far, but it’s the explosive relationship between Ray and Mickey that really powers this series.
During the past few years, Voight probably has gotten more attention over his occasionally kooky public comments than for his performances but, at 74, this Academy Award winner can still bring it when he gets the right role. Here, his Mickey is all silky charm and false contrition as he reunites with his family and plays harmless Gramps to score sympathy points, but Voight also lets us see the feral beast lurking and waiting just below the surface. It’s entirely believable that this old man still has the power to scare the daylights out of Ray, especially when Ray sees Mickey cuddling up to the kids.
As for Schreiber, well, like his longtime life partner, Naomi Watts, he’s been delivering one fascinating performance after another for several years now, yet he still seems consigned to the B-list in terms of major stardom. If Ray Donovan hits as solidly as it deserves to, that may finally change, because this is a performance that is both tough and tender, deeply poignant and compelling even in these first episodes where we’re still getting to know Ray. And believe me, if you’re a fan of powerful adult drama, you’re going to want to know Ray Donovan very well indeed.