Videophiled TVD: ‘Ray Donovan’

Created by Ann Biderman, whose L.A. cop drama Southland was a critical favorite that was picked up and sustained by TNT for four years, the Showtime original series Ray Donovan: Season One (Showtime / CBS, Blu-ray, DVD) is ostensibly about the dirty business of covering up the scandals and crimes and bad behavior of the rich and famous of Los Angeles but it is centered on the family drama of a Boston clan that moved west after their criminal father Mickey (Jon Voigt) went to prison on a murder conviction.

Liev Schreiber is the title character, a tough, emotionally unflappable fixer for LA’s celebrities, the man who makes scandals and legal problems for famous clients go away, or does what he can to mitigate the damage of their misdeeds when it’s too late to cover them up. He’s also the protective brother who looks after Terry (Eddie Marsan), a former boxer damaged by his years in the ring now running a gym, and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), an alcoholic in rehab who has never gotten over the abuse he suffered at the hands of his priest. He loves his wife (Paula Malcomson) and children and is determined to keep them apart from the celebrity culture of excess and entitlement, but is so committed to his work that he has little time to spend with them, which puts a strain on the marriage. And he has never forgiven his father for his neglect and abuse, which creates tensions when Mickey gets out of prison early and tries to get back into his sons’ lives, reopening old wounds and creating new ones along the way.

It’s an interesting mix of cultures, the dark family drama with Boston Irish crime connections and the show business scandals in the shadows of sunny Los Angeles, and it gives the series an outsider’s perspective on it all. It’s also a rather grim and downbeat show, without much humor to leaven the heaviness of the family turmoil, centered by a strong performance by Schreiber. One of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, he carves out his version of the familiar anti-hero with a ruthless dedication to his job, a temper he mostly keeps in check, and a moral code, a man who will do almost anything for a client but will cross the line for family. Steven Bauer co-stars as Ray’s right hand man and James Woods guest stars as a vicious Boston hitman modeled on Whitey Bulger.

12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, no supplements.

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