Ray Donovan

 

Ray Donovan ~ Season 1

Created for television by Kevin Williamson

Written by Ann Biderman, et al 

Cinematography: Matthew Jensen

Editing: Lynne Willingham, Sidney Wolinsky & Peter B. Ellis

Production Design: Scott Murphy & Jeffrey Mossa

Music: Marcelo Zarvos

Produced by Allen Coulter

Directed by Allen Coulter, et al

U.S. Air Dates:  Showtime: June 30 - Sept 22, 2013

 

Cast:

Liev Schreiber

Paula Malcomson

Jon Voight

Eddie Marsan

Dash Mihok

Steven Bauer

Kerris Dorsey

Devon Bagby

Pooch Hall

Katherine Moennig

 

Production:

Television: Mark Gordon & Ann Biderman

Video: CBS Blu-ray

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD 50 x 3

Episode Size: avg. 10.3 GB

Total Avg.  Bit rate: Moderate (20~25 Mbps)

Runtime:  avg. 52 min/episode

Episodes: 12

Chapters: 8 per episode

 

Audio

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

French 5.1 Surround

Spanish 2.0 Stereo

 

Subtitles: English SDH

 

Extras:

• (None on disc)

• Showtime sync

 

Presentation:

Standard Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 3

Street Date: June 10, 2014


 

CBS Product Description:

The network's highest-rated freshman series (with over 5.7 million viewers per week) is also "the most testosterone, rough and intelligent drama in ages" (The Hollywood Reporter). Set in Los Angeles, the sprawling mecca of the rich and famous, RAY DONOVAN centers on the man called in to make the most complicated and combustible situations from the city's celebrities, superstar athletes, and business moguls go away. At his side are Avi (Steven Bauer), an imposing Israeli, and Lena (Katherine Moennig), a laconic, hard-boiled lesbian. Most of his work is for Goldman/Drexler, the most powerful law firm in town led by his confidante and mentor Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) and Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson).

 

The only problems he can't fix are those involving his own damaged South Boston family including brothers Bunchy (Dash Mihok) and Terry (Eddie Marsan), along with his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson), daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and son Conor (Devon Bagby). To Ray, all of their problems can be traced back to one person: his father Mickey (Voight), a gangster with the Irish mob who never protected his family. But everything is turned upside down when Mickey, after twenty years in jail, makes his way to Los Angeles and is hungry for revenge. He wants money, a new life, and his place at the head of his family.


         

 

The Season: 7

For a change, the above Product Description offered by CBS is fairly accurate and, except for the hyperbole, useful, without saying too much or too little.  Ray Donovan is indeed a gritty series with hardly a single character that isn’t in some interesting way, damaged or on their way to being so. Characters are often pressured into situations so as to give the writers a chance to write crises and testosterone-driven scenes for the actors to move around in. In short, they are not consistently believable. In this, Ray Donovan is a little like Breaking Bad, with less manga.


I was surprised by how little Ray’s wife, Abby, knows about his work – that is, until she stumbles into some of it about halfway into the season, and she pops the question “I just don’t get you any more - the handcuffs, the dead priest. Is that the guy who abused Bunchy?” And he answers with “Come on, Abs, you know I can’t talk about business.”  No, no, no - you can’t say that - except in irony or satire, that number has been retired. Suddenly we are expected to believe these characters occupy two universes: the one where they have easy access to Paramount Studios and Hollywood celebrity and the other where they have never heard of you know who.


         


After all, this isn’t The Godfather. Abby Donovan is not Kay Adams and Ray isn’t Michael Corleone. Carmela Soprano knows more about what Tony was into than Abby does. Even a sanitized picture of what Ray does could have explained his long and disjointed work hours – and, while I can be supportive of a spouse whose partner is rarely home, I found it a little hard to swallow that she doesn’t seem to understand why. This is a couple that went to high school together in the worst part of south Boston. Abby is more of a “Southie” than Ray is and describes him as a “ghetto kid,” and she is aware of at least one murder before their marriage that Ray figured in even though he didn’t pull the trigger. She may not know or need to know the daily workings of Ray’s job, but she’s got to know who he is - as much as any wife knows about her husband - and what he does. And no writer putting these words in her mouth and spoken with the kind of conviction Paula Malcomson can bring to it can convince me otherwise.


         

 

I get it that Abby is asking specific questions here, and that we assume Ray is not answering them because he fears a slippery slope that would lead inevitably to dark secrets about him and his father.  Moreover, this disconnect and consequent lack of trust goes a long way to explain the level of non-communication that exists in this family. It’s like when the daughter, Bridget, who is not your garden variety depressed adolescent, starts party drinking and MJ smoking a few episodes after she shed tears upon learning that her father’s sister committed suicide while high on drugs. Yes, I get it that teenagers are impulsive and easily manipulated by peers and context, but her behavior would have been easier to swallow without the earlier tears.


When her brother, Conor, hits another kid from behind because he was tired of being humiliated, Ray only sees the act, and doesn’t ask about the cause. Ray is both blind a little stupid in this area. It’s a bit of a careless, shotgun approach to fleshing out character on the one hand, but at the same time, there is a faint ring of truth about how a family is affected by a father who only sees conflict as a a problem that requires an immediate solution. He never asks “why,” he never judges. Perhaps he should, which is kind of the point.


         

 

The contrast between Ray and his father couldn’t be more striking. As to Ray, I reminded of Charles Grodin’s observation of Robert De Niro in Midnight Run: “You have two emotions: silence and rage,” which just about sums up Ray. De Niro’s character and Ray have in common a seething unexpressed anger that finds outlet in their chosen profession - De Niro, a bounty hunter; Ray, a fixer. By contrast, Mickey is charismatic, amoral, and expressive. He gives the impression of a man who enjoys life and sex without guilt, which is a lot more than we can say for Ray (or his brothers for that matter.) Mickey is appropriately pissed off that the feds are putting the squeeze on him – not because he is expected to give up his family so much as because he wants to be his own man. We’re not even sure that that Ray likes his work as that he feels driven to do what he does. It’s his way of feeling in control of a life that was misappropriated at a young age.


         

 

The casting is pitch-perfect: Jon Voight has never been more vital or more interesting (he won a Golden Globe for his performance), Liev Schreiber never more contained, a character so bored with himself, he hurts. Paula Malcomson (you’ll recall a knowing intelligence luring just under the surface of her character in Deadwood) wily and smartass, but willing to close her eyes what is going on close to home. She drinks way too much. Eddie Marsan, whom I remembered as the dogged rent-collector, Pancks, in the BBC production of Little Dorritt is shadowy and recessive here as Terry, one of Ray’s 2 brothers (or 3, depending on who’s counting). Terry, who runs a boxing club barely makes ends meet, is mildly, but visibly twisted with Parkinson’s that may have been exacerbated by his coach father’s pushing him too hard in the ring, but emotionally Terry is his own prisoner - even more crippled, if that were possible. Marsan does more with less than any actor in the series. Dash Mihok plays Bunchy, a marginal man in every way. Drowning, needy, but impossible to give to. He lives in a vice with the Catholic Church and a childhood molestation at one end and his father and Ray at the other.  Mihok’s Bunchy is a mess at every level, and still we can feel sympathy for him, which is more than we say about brother, Ray.  Brother number three is unnecessary to the story, though his existence is cause for some amusement.


         

 

Steven Bauer is Ray’s soldier – his eyes, ears, and, when necessary, hands. He’s one of the few truly straight people in this story. We pray nothing bad happens to him, for then we would drown in relentless misery. Elliott Gould, Denise Crosby and James Woods do good work in smaller roles. Last, but hardly least, are Ray and Abby’s two teenage kids, Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby, each trying – and often succeeding – to outdo the other in acting out for attention and independence. Initially, this is garden variety stuff: drinking, smoking, a little necking and the occasional whacking, but we know things just can’t mellow out in this family.


         

 

Critical Reviews:

Hollywood Reporter:

By now it’s old news that major film actors are flocking to television. The roles are often better. The writing is definitely better. Instead of telling a truncated story in roughly two hours, they get to inhabit a character in a multi-episode, living, breathing, ongoing narrative.  What’s not to like?

 

Despite knowing all of that, it’s still a thrill watching Showtime’s Ray Donovan (premiering June 30 at 10 p.m.) and basking in Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight going toe-to-toe. This was casting gold. Much has been written about how high-quality cable series resuscitated the careers of actresses of a certain age who were getting terrible roles on the big screen. But witness Voight here and you have to think that maybe a two-hour film devoting 20 or so minutes to such a heavyweight, no matter the material, is a disservice to the talent. Seriously, Voight is as riveting, menacing, nuanced and electric in Ray Donovan as in any role he’s had in years.

There is so much to love about Ray Donovan, but one of the best elements is that 62-year-old executive producer, creator and writer Ann Biderman (Southland, Public Enemies, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Primal Fear) has absolutely obliterated the ridiculous industry standard that you have to be some young talented thing to make an impact. She’s created the most testosterone-fueled, rough and intelligent drama in ages, and it’s a credit to Showtime’s honcho David Nevins (and other executive producers Mark Gordon and Bryan Zuriff) that he bought into her vision and believed in her ability. . .


         

 

Particularly effective is Biderman’s sense of incorporating something distinctly different — life in South Boston, Catholicism, church abuse, old-school family roots versus the fresh-start reincarnation promise of California. It’s a culture clash that is not even close to being the top element in Ray Donovan but provides a unique extra layer. Biderman has a lot of plot to manipulate and a lot of story to tell, and [she}must be gleeful at getting to pull the strings on such an intricate story, with a fine ensemble cast. It’s an embarrassment of acting riches for Ray Donovan. So much so that any scene where Schreiber or Voight looks up to witness the other at a distance just crackles with anticipation — what hell is about to be unleashed in the ensuing moments? - Tim Goodman


         

 

Huffington Post

I wish I could say that "Ray Donovan" is just a garden-variety disappointment, but the new Showtime drama is more than just an average letdown. It seems to indicate that Showtime is not looking to the future -- a future the network was helping to create via the addictive dual psychodrama "Homeland -- but to the testosterone-soaked past. It's one thing for a show to underuse extremely capable cast members such as Liev Schreiber and Paula Malcolmson, who play a Hollywood fixer and his wife. . . The fact that these actors aren't called upon to display much of their range in this ungainly and derivative show is deflating, but great casts are assembled to no great purpose all the time. No, the bigger problem is that the show is an awkward melange of anti-hero tropes, which are so familiar by now that they verge on -- or veer into -- melodramatic cliché. "Ray Donovan" is the latest example of Dick-Measuring TV, in which powerful, angry men assess what they've amassed and scrabble for more -- but none of it, of course, can fill the gaping voids within them, etc. . .


         

 

If the idea is for "Ray Donovan" to say something about generational cycles of violence and the inability of men in brutal subcultures to connect, well, get in line. TV creators have been working that field a long time ("The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "The Shield," "Sons of Anarchy" and the rest of the usual suspects), and "Ray Donovan" has nothing new to add to the conversation about male isolation, anger and competition. There are clear attempts to make Malcolmson's character more than the typical shrewish anti-hero wife, but they are insufficient, and that is an enormous shame, given Malcolmson's indelible presence and volcanic potential. The only "Ray Donovan" characters who make much of an impact are around the margins: Eddie Marsan is quietly effective as Ray's brother, Terry, whose career as a boxer left him with Parkinson's, and Steven Bauer is scene-stealingly fantastic as Ray's chief assistant. But much of the show simply feels disjointed, or tired, or both. Despite intermittent flashes of liveliness, the pacing of "Ray Donovan" is off, especially at first, when it feels as though the show is trying to cover too much ground and cram in too much backstory about the Donovans' troubled past in Boston. Later, the pace evens out, but the stakes surrounding Ray's employers, his father and his kids fail to engage on any significant level.  - Maureen Ryan


         

 

Slant Magazine:

The sunshine-smeared valleys of Los Angeles County clash with the cold, hard, weathered streets of South Boston in Ray Donovan, a series that blends the vibes of a cool, fast-paced crime caper with those of an emotionally wrought family drama to generally gratifying results. Starring a hypnotic Liev Schreiber in the title role as a Hollywood "fixer" (think a less cartoony version of Pulp Fiction's Winston Wolfe), the series excels predominantly because of the proficient way it transitions from Ray's dealings in celebrity-scandal cover-ups to more personal, impassioned scenes of his clearly dysfunctional family being slowly torn apart by decades of lies and tension. As Ray sweeps numerous La La Land scandals under the rug (OD'd girls in the beds of athletes, porn tapes used as blackmail, relentless starlet-stalkers, etc.), he returns home to his frustrated wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), and their two children, Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and Conor (Devon Bagby), far too exhausted to mend their ruptured relationships.


         

 

The metaphorical pot just about boils over when Ray's sinister father, Mickey (Jon Voight), is released after being held for 20 years in a Massachusetts state penitentiary. Mickey abruptly murders a priest, a suspected pedophile, and makes a beeline for Los Angeles to confront his son, who may or may not have been instrumental in landing him in the slammer. It's evident that Mickey's an asshole of the highest order, his moral compass entirely nonexistent, and he's no doubt inflicted both physical and mental damage on his offspring, yet Ray Donovan succeeds at amping up the malice between father and son to a degree so staggering that when the two finally do reunite, the anxiety in the room is fiercely palpable. Schreiber and Voight's nuanced performances are magnetic without resorting to showy over-acting.


         

 

Not one member of the Donovan brood is without their pitiable afflictions. Ray's brother, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who was abused by a preacher as a child, while their other brother, Terry (Eddie Marsan), is a former boxer with Parkinson's, likely developing the disease after being pushed too hard by coach Mickey in a fight. Mickey also fathered another son, Daryll (Pooch Hall), before he went to lockup. Daryll's mother is black, yet Mickey was known to have bouts of racist behavior, heightening his titanic hypocrisy in Ray's eyes. The questionable actions of his brothers, directly influenced by their father, seem to negatively effect Ray more than anyone else; he's the bottom row of a house of cards that's on the brink of collapsing.


         

 

Ray Donovan is a harsh, often excessively temperamental series, but it takes some well-timed respites from its main character's crumbling familial circumstances when it puts him in the middle of case-of-the-week-style Tinseltown conspiracies. The show's large ensemble is mostly free of stereotypes, and nearly every narrative shift feels authentic and punctual. Ray's occupational struggles obviously take a toll on him, but it's his tribulations on the homefront that hit the hardest, making him a severely flawed protagonist who curiously arouses intermittent sympathy. Like Breaking Bad's Walter White, he's a desperate man whose initial intentions are good, but who quickly becomes a slave to his blind immorality. - Mike Lechevallier


         

  

Image: 7

The basic gritty quality of the drama is properly conveyed by the image. While not especially sharp, it is not obviously processed to appear grainy or diffused. There is also an absence of “enhanced” color or saturation, translating into a naturalistic image. “Dexter” or “Mad Men” it’s not. The lighting used in the photography helps keep contrast low and textures less than etched. There are no transfer anomalies to get in the way and the picture looks acceptable projected onto a large screen

 

Audio & Music: 7/8

Remarkably unremarkable. Like the image quality for this Showtime production, the audio, while it doesn’t urge calling up subtitles, has very little going for up except to say that it gets the job done. The surrounds in particular seem non-existent, though we feel their loss if you turn them off.


         

 

Extras: 2

There are no bonus features on the discs. In their place, CBS Blu-ray enables a function called “SHO-Sync” which the user accesses with their Internet connection. As Showtime describes it on their website :

 

 Your Showtime viewing experience is about to become more engaging and a whole lot more fun. Interactive content will appear during the show while you watch.

• Answer polls and trivia, make predictions, and share content instantly.

• Sync automatically whether you watch live or you are just catching up.

• Learn more about your favorite characters and relive key moments.

• Earn points and badges and play against other fans.

 

I didn’t try this out as the whole idea strikes me the wrong way. I would have much preferred a few traditional commentaries on the discs where I can get to them.  On the other hand there must all sorts of folks out there who really get into this format. For them, there is SHO-Sync. Knock yourselves out.


         

 

Recommendation: 7

CBS apparently hasn’t got the word that home theatre types don’t just watch 4 hours of some series in one bite. Despite that the menu has a Play All function, this is only useful if you keep the disc in the tray. Take it out, or even bring your play to a full stop, and you lose your place - and worse, you have to sort through Showtime previews. . . again and again. For this oversight and the lack of on-disc bonus features, I took off a point.


         

 

The drama series is intense and, though there are comical touches, there is always the feeling of danger lurking around the edges. If there is one nagging concern I have about the series, it is its relative lack of insight, especially given subject matter opportunity. The narrative is largely expositional and sensationalistic rather than reflective, and I’m not always on the same page with Ray’s two teenagers, who strike me more as handy cyphers than consistent (if such a term makes sense applied to adolescents!) characters. It does get “there” eventually but it takes its time doing it - the final pages are well worth the wait.

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

June 1, 2014



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