RAY DONOVAN Series Premiere Recap: “The Bag or the Bat”

     June 30, 2013


In Ray Donovan, Showtime’s new South-Boston-Comes-To-L.A. drama, it takes 42 minutes before Ray (Liev Schreiber) smiles.  This says a lot about Ray and about Ray Donovan, and paints a pretty accurate picture about the tone of the first episode.  That’s not to say that it’s not enjoyable, but it’s a departure from Showtime’s more winking-attitude dramas of the past.  No, Ray Donovan does not suffer fools gladly, and though the first episode has its lighter moments, for the most part its steeped in solemnity.  Hit the jump for more on how this drama about South Bostonites manages to somehow not feature one Wahlberg or Affleck. 

ray-donovan-posterRay Donovan has an odd tonal shift about a third of the way through its premiere.  Despite some clunky editing to start, things start to gel once Ray starts doing what he apparently does best — “fixing” things for the rich and powerful of Hollywood.  A basketball star wakes up with a dead girl he doesn’t know?  Not a problem.  “You think you’re the first person I’ve dealt with who’s woken up with a dead body?” Ray says to him casually.  A few phone calls later, he’s off the hook, and the dead girl has been linked instead to an action star who has a love of trannies.  Two birds with one stone.  Fixed.

The “fixing” part of Ray’s introduction is reminiscent of the better moments of Entourage, especially when Ari Gold would do everything he could to revive Vince’s career or reroute his mistakes into triumphs.  Entourage was one of (if not the) most perceptive series about the realities of Hollywood, a in-jokey satire that was masked under the guise of a “bro show.”  Ray Donovan starts out with this same idea about the underbelly of Hollywood life, though very broadly executed.  The jumpy sports star, the gay action hero, the sleezy executive — we’ve seen this all before, but it’s still fun, and the fast-paced editing makes Ray and his underlings’ actions exciting to watch unfold.

But things grind to a halt with the introduction of the former Disney star who has emancipated herself from her parents and is having an affair with the sleezy producer.  Ray gets entangled with her in a way that’s disappointing.  We know that Ray is a tough guy with some seedy connections, but him responding to the pop star’s advances is tiresome.  Can’t a white hat be a white hat anymore?  His job is what makes him complicated, not falling prey to a cliche.

ray-donovan-bag-bat-liev-schreiberRay’s main complication though is his family — older brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) has Parkinson’s, younger brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) was molested as a child and can’t stay sober, father Mickey (Jon Voight) is a scumbag, recently released from prison, who has him in his sites, and half brother Daryll (Pooch Hall) is a new black half-brother Ray doesn’t even know how to process yet.  His interactions with each are priceless, and showcase an incredible amount of acting talent. At home, there’s a whining Abby (Paula Malcomson) who calls Calabasas the “Jersey Shore of L.A.” and is focused on upward mobility for herself and her children, both of whom seem somewhat estranged from their father.  Haunting them all is Ray’s deceased sister Bridget, who jumped off of a building while on drugs when she was a teenager.

There’s plenty here that’s ripe for drama, but the unevenness of the first hour leaves viewers with a few question marks.  There was humor and drama, but the shift from, say, a camera zooming around L.A. to upbeat pop music to Ray later hallucinating Marilyn Monroe talking to him before a dream sequence shows the series hasn’t yet found its footing.  Still, the first hour set up plenty of places for the show to go, which proves Ray Donovan is clearly not a one-idea series, which Showtime is notorious for creating.  There’s good stuff here, but there is a wariness as well.  Hopefully, “you’re in the solution now.”

Episode Rating: B+

ray-donovan-bag-bat-schreiber-malcomsonMusings and Miscellanea:

– Don’t get me wrong, I liked the episode!  I grade harshly to start so that things can hopefully only go up.  Also the grades are not an exact science.

– The cast is stellar.  Though Schreiber and Voight are fantastic anchors of light and dark, in between there are some familiar faces: Paula Malcomsom (Deadwood) as Ray’s wife Abbey, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock) as Ray’s beleaguered older brother Terry, Katherine Moening (The L Word) as press agent Lena, and a few more that should be popping up in future episodes makes this already a strong offering.

– Ezra, what are you doing, buddy?

– Jon Voight killing a priest, smoking a joint and then dancing is a GIFset I need to see.

– Abby, why you gotta let Mickey in, eh?

– Ray turning the stalker guy green was not a punishment I expected.  The bat, yes.  Yikes.

– Beautiful shot against the L.A. city lights at sunset when Ray pulled the car over to get a blowjob.  The way the dust  flew up in front of the car’s headlights with a nice, stylish moment.

– I really, really want to live in that beach front house.

– “Not the face!!” – skeezy exec.  So typical.

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  • Nick

    I don’t want this to seem like a criticism, more just a difference of opinion because I really love your recaps and review, but I think this grade is mighty generous. The writing wasn’t natural, it was very obvious dialogue and I think it was trying a bit hard to be “cool.” The line “you think you’re the first guy ” blah blah blah is super cheesy to me. It also doesn’t seem to fit the confident yet stern attitude of Rau, who, in that line is tryi g to impress the guy on the other end.

    Also, when you’re talking about the clunky editing, is that in regard to the awkward music editing? I swear, they must have been on crack, adding the “Hollywood” song after the priest gets shot and then they cut into lame rap which then fades to silence and dialogue.. It’s what I would expect to happen when 5 people are involved in the decision one person should have made.

    • Allison Keene

      the music editing was atrocious, I agree. and yes, I do tend to go soft with my grades, hah. I actually hate giving grades to anything … I think i’d prefer a different system at least. might pitch that …!

  • Nick

    Oh also with the dialogue.. Mickeys conversation at the door with Abbey. He states he wrote to her, why rehash that tv dialogue that no real people would ever have together if not to easily clue us in on it. I hate lazy writing like that. He wrote to her, she clearly already knows all of that. Good writing would be to let us wonder why should would just let him in despite Rays warnings, and then reveal the letters later for a little ah-ha moment. I hate when writers think they need to hold our hands through their show

    • Allison Keene

      I totally agree with you on all of this — but, pilots are usually low points in a series so i’m hoping some of that clunky dialogue and rote stuff fades away!

  • pinkincide

    It’s like the dark side of Entourage. I’m loving this so far.

  • Ron Swanson

    I’m really not trying to be a dick, but he cracked a smile in minute 33 when Ezra’s mistress asked him what was up with all the yiddish. that is a very small detail and, aside from that, good review. I have to agree with Nick about the dialogue though. The basketball player at the beginning was cringe worthy. not every black guy who plays basketball refers to everyone as dog or cuz. that being said, I enjoyed the show. I’ll definitely be tuning in next week.

    • LEM

      Have you seen post game interviews?

      • Ron Swanson

        I’m a basketball nut. I watch tons of post game interviews. there are plenty of articulate black men in the NBA. there are a lot of ghetto guys too, but I just would have liked to see something a little less cliche from that character.

    • Allison Keene

      when I noticed it at 42 minutes I thought “has he smiled before this …?” I took a chance, heh. but! 33 minutes is still a long way in. his whole demeanor was a little TOO morose, but maybe that will change up a bit as it settles in.

      • Ron Swanson

        I agree with you. I’m hoping the character becomes a little less one dimensional. Liev Schreiber has the acting chops to do a lot more with the character. Your reviews are really good Allison. Any chance you’ll ever take over for Goldberg reviewing movies on this site? One can dream haha

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  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Neither Wahlberg nor Affleck are from South Boston. Wahlbergs: from Dorchester. Afflecks: from Cambridge.