Ray Donovan is the go-to guy who makes the problems of Los Angeles celebrities, superstar athletes, and business moguls disappear. This powerful family drama unfolds when his father is unexpectedly released from prison, setting off a chain of events that shakes the Donovan family to its core.
'Ray Donovan' isn't a series that lends itself to quick payoffs and instant viewer satisfaction. In fact, I finished the first episode not only confused about how all the characters and storylines connected with one another, but not even 100 percent sure what the title character's (played by Liev Schreiber) job title and work duties really were. This is a series that, even at the onset, doesn't hit you over the head with exposition. Instead, it just plants you in Donovan's daily life and expects you to put together the pieces as the episodes progress.
It probably took me a good three episodes before I had all the main characters and their backgrounds straight, but by the time I did, I confess the show had reeled me in. Ray Donovan plays a 'fixer' – sort of a private investigator who is on the payroll of two high-powered entertainment lawyers (played by Elliot Gould and Peter Jacobson). Ray's job is primarily to straighten out any crisis or potential scandal with the lawyers' Hollywood-type clients that may arise. Episode One provides a good example of how Ray works. On the same day, one movie star client is getting blackmailed over a video of him with a transsexual while another client wakes up in bed next to a dead girl (she's overdosed). Ray's solution? To make it look like the movie star was the one who woke up with the dead girl, thus averting any question about his sexual tastes.
Ray and his family (his wife is played by Deadwood's Paula Malcomson) are transplanted Bostonians now living in California. Ray has two brothers who have also moved out to Los Angeles with him: Terry (Eddie Marsan) who is a former boxer and now has Parkinson's disease and trains at a gym, and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), who is a recovering alcoholic and also was abused by a priest when he was a young boy back in Boston (we'll eventually learn that Ray was abused as well). It's the former abuse that plays a big role in the first episode, as Ray's father, Mickey (Jon Voight), is released from prison and immediately goes to exact revenge on the priest that abused his sons. As Season One unfolds, viewers learn more and more about why Mickey was in prison, and why Ray might have been the person who put him behind bars. It's obvious immediately though that Ray wants nothing to do with his father, nor does he want his father anywhere near his family.
Jon Voight's portrayal as the patriarch of the Donovan family is an entertaining one, and completely different from what I was expecting. When you learn that Voight is playing a criminal getting out of jail after 20 years, you have certain expectations about the character. And while Voight's Mickey is not one to be taken lightly, he also fills the role with a kind of boyish wonder and charm (not to mention the prejudices of a man who hasn't been outside a cell for two decades) that make the character both likeable and repulsive all at the same time. In fact, all the Donovan boys, with the exception of Ray, seem to be men who never quite grew up. Terry has his eyes set on his physical therapist (The Silence of the Lambs' Brooke Smith), yet has no idea how to play the dating game; while when Bunchy comes into some money, the first thing that he wants to do is buy a bicycle. Early in Season One, Ray will learn that he has a third brother, Daryll (Pooch Hall), the result of an affair between his father and an African-American woman.
One of the most interesting (and perhaps alienating) things about 'Ray Donovan' is that there's no single wholesome person for the viewer to latch onto. The main character will show sparks of morality at certain moments, then turn around and do something unethical the next. He's very much in the anti-hero lead character mold we've seen in other cable series, most notably in The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. The difference here is that Ray doesn't really have that many decent people surrounding him. Everyone here is fighting off demons.
This is one of those shows where patience is rewarded. You may enjoy 'Ray Donovan' immediately, but if you don't, I urge you to give it a few more episodes before giving up. Additionally, because of the way the series builds its characterizations, the episodes hold up to repeat viewings as going back to watch earlier episodes with the knowledge you have provided in later episodes give the storylines deeper meaning. If you're a fan of well-acted serialized drama, give 'Ray Donovan' a chance.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Ray Donovan: Season One' arrives on Blu-ray in an Elite keepcase. An attached hub holds the first two 50GB dual-layer discs, while disc three is held on the inside right of the case. The reverse side of the slick (seen from inside the box) contains an episode listing with a short synopsis of each one. There are no inserts inside the keepcase. Disc One is front-loaded with a promo ad for Showtime and a trailer for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. There are no front-loaded materials on the remaining discs. The main menu consists of a montage of video footage from the episodes, with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen.
'Ray Donavan' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras, and the result is fantastic, with every line, crease, and wrinkle on the actors' faces showing, and fine details visible in virtually every shot. Those familiar with movies and TV shows shot on Arri Alexa equipment will recognize the look of the image here, which is very film-like, without having the grain you'd normally see from film. Colors are bright and well-balanced, but never oversaturated. Black levels are solid, with no problems distinguishing objects in the series' darker scenes.
About the only issue here is that the video quality is so impressive that it's relatively easy to spot when green screen is being used. This takes place in virtually every car scene in the series, as well as many doorway shots – when the exterior of a house is a physical location, but the interior is a set. However, you can't take away from the video because it's too well rendered, and this release of 'Ray Donavan' provides a reference-quality visual experience.
There's nothing technically wrong with the English TrueHD 5.1 track viewers get for each episode; however, thanks to the largely dialogue-driven aspects of the show, it's not a track that really shows off one's home theater system, either. The occasional action sequence or musical cue will bring the track to life, but there's really only a handful of instances in each episode when one will notice their surround set-up, as most of the activity is front and center.
The track does do a good job of keeping individual sounds distinct, and the dialogue is crisp throughout. No noticeable issues with dropouts, and the dynamic range here is solid. Given the events of each episode, though, there's little in terms of noticeable directionality and almost no (again in terms of noticeability) low-end use.
In addition to the English TrueHD track, both a French 5.1 surround track and Spanish 2.0 stereo track have been provided. Subtitles are offered in English SDH and English.
It took a few episodes for 'Ray Donovan' to hook me as a viewer, but once it did, I really enjoyed this Showtime series. This isn't the typical drama, as there really are no morally upstanding characters for the viewer to latch onto. Instead, we have an anti-hero surrounded by characters with various degrees of demons haunting them. However, if you have the time to invest, this series will provide some worthwhile viewing. Recommended.