TV Review: Keep your eyes on 'Ray Donovan'


You can't take your eyes off of Ray Donovan, nor should you -- and not just because this is a guy you don't want to turn your back on.

"Ray Donovan," the terrific new drama from Showtime, is about the ultimate Hollywood "fixer" who can clean up any mess except his own dysfunctional family.

But the other reason you can't take your eyes off Donovan is because the character is so brilliantly underplayed by Liev Schreiber. Through the four episodes sent to critics, including tonight's 10 o'clock premiere, there is scene after scene of Schreiber's tortoise-like features barely moving as he goes about beating up a Peeping Tom who's been warned to stay away from a young woman, or trying to convince his long-suffering wife that he wants their marriage to survive. With the smallest facial adjustment, Schreiber can communicate anger, resentment, regret or love. The performance is minimalist to the max.

Among the many elements that make "Ray Donovan" so good is that it really isn't another Hollywood TV show. Yes, it's set in Los Angeles, and Donovan works for a powerful law firm whose client roster includes the rich and powerful of the film industry. But the show is as much about Ray's Boston roots, as represented by his two brothers who also live in L.A.

All three Donovans are broken men, in one way or another, which is one of the reasons Ray has trouble "fixing" the family. His brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is a drunk and a drug addict who is about to get a $1.4 million settlement from the Boston Archdiocese because he was abused as a boy by a priest. Brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is a sweet-natured sad sack whose former boxing career has left him with Parkinson's disease. The brothers run a gym called the Fite Club in a part of Los Angeles far away from tony pool parties and the movie premieres Ray hangs out at for his job.

The brothers are all haunted by their shared past, including the suicide of their sister when she was a teenager.

But they also share dear old dad, who just arrived in Los Angeles after being released from prison back in Boston. Now that this unrpentant kimgpin of the irish mob is in Los Angeles, he wants to reconnect with his sons. For his own sake as well as his brothers', that's the last thing Ray wants.

Every magnificently minimal moment in Schreiber's performance is beautifully countered by a gargantuan embodiment of pure evil and utter shamelessness by Jon Voight as Mickey Donovan, a man who doesn't know the meaning of limits.

Abby Donovan gives as good as she gets, and she has to put up with a lot from Ray, including his frequent disappearances from their Calabasas home.

Equally fine work is to be found throughout the cast, especially from Elliott Gould as one of the partners in the firm Ray works for. He's a little doddering, is given to lapsing into Yiddish when his mind wanders and is offended that his mistress shows up for the memorial service for his late wife, but Gould's Ezra is a mensch compared with partner Lee Drexler (Peter Goldman), a hyper, foulmouthed Ari Gold with almost as much unintended humor.

All of this magic owes largely to one person, the show's creator, Ann Biderman, who also wrote the pilot episode. She won an Emmy as a writer for "NYPD Blue" and created the late and deeply lamented "Southland," one of the best cop shows on TV.

But here, she broadens her canvas beyond the squad room.

At heart, this is a show about good and evil, but sometimes the catch is knowing which is which. You won't be able to stop watching.


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