This week, Showtime has premiered its highly anticipated new drama series Ray Donovan. The first episode, “The Bag or the Bat,” fuses Boston legacy with Hollywood culture, family strife and twisted religious conflicts.

Liev Schreiber plays Ray Donovan, a Hollywood “fixer” with Boston gangster roots. A man of few words, he clashes heads with his father, Mickey (Jon Voight). Brought into the “cleaning up” business by Ezra Goodman (Elliott Gould), Ray lives a dark life. His family lives comfortably in Calabasas, but Ray’s wife Abby craves the Beverly Hills lifestyle. Abby wants her kids enrolled in a private school and complains that their neighborhood is the Jersey Shore of LA. As a full-time citizen of New Jersey, I resent that remark.

Ray has two brothers, a late sister and a newly discovered half-black brother. Ray’s brothers Bunchy and Terry have known about the father’s lovechild for over 10 years, but just decided to reveal his existence to Ray in wake of their father’s release from prison.

The show is chock-full of surprises, creeps and, above all, mystery. After watching the pilot, I’m 20 times more curious than George.

Ray Donovan Review: Dark Tale of Dysfunction at the Highest Level >>>

A Day in the Life

The first mess of the season is a dual-scandal Ray melds into one: established athlete and TMZ-magnet Deonte wakes up in the Caveat hotel next to a dead naked woman. He calls Ray, who sits in bed and nonchalantly asks, “Did you kill her?” Ray gathers his clean up crew: Lena, a sarcastic lesbian, and Avi, a fearless man with a scary accent.

Back at headquarters, Ray’s boss Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson) is dealing with Tommy Wheeler, an action superstar and poster-child for womanizing, who was just caught with a tranny for the SECOND time. Ray sends Tommy to the Caveat. He has Lena call TMZ to alert them that Tommy just woke up coked out in a hotel with a dead woman. Ray sends Deonte to have brunch with his wife in the Caveat restaurant … boom: Tommy’s straight, Deonte’s a married man. Case closed.

Ray journeys over to Paramount to meet with client Stu Feldman (Creep #1). Stu hires Ray to follow his mistress to see if she’s cheating on him. The mistress, Ashley, turns out to be an old friend of Ray’s. She was a Disney kid whose parents stole money from her. Ray helped her when she was 16, but it is unclear exactly how.

While spying on Ashley, Ray finds out she has a stalker — a real one, not a Facebook one. Ray breaks client confidentiality and pays Ashley a visit. Avi warns him not to do this again, hinting at Ray’s emotional past with clientele. Ray warns Ashley of the stalker (Creep #2), makes out with her and then nurses her back to health when she has a small epileptic episode. All in a day’s work.

Ray waits in Creep #2’s apartment, sitting on his couch with a few supplies. When he comes home, Ray sternly asks him, “The bag or the bat?” Ray forces Creep #2 to bathe in green dye, using no contact, just scare tactics. Ray threatens Creep #2, saying he will kill him if he comes near Ashley again. In true Creep fashion, Creep #2 obviously does stalk Ashley again, and Ray casually beats him to death with the bat.

I’m still trying to figure out the symbolism behind the green dye: is he eco-friendly? Recyclable? Hmm … Maybe not.

The Family Mafia

Ray has a stronger sense of family than The Family itself (yes, that Family). Everything he does is for his family and out of the good of his scarred heart. He loves easily, forgives sparingly.

Ray’s immediate family consists of wife Abby and his two children, Bridget and Conor. Bridget is a witty pre-teen with a blossoming curiosity about life. While building a family tree for a school project, she reveals to her little brother that their uncles don’t have children because one has Parkinson’s and one got molested by a priest — which is why daddy doesn’t let them go to church.

Bunchy Donovan, one-third of the brothers Donovan, is a raging alcoholic who really was molested by a priest in his youth. Ray claims Terry (Brother #2) got Parkinson’s from his boxing career. Ray and Terry are very similar: they speak slowly, softly, sternly and not very often. Every Donovan seems extremely jaded in their own heavy way.

Abby complains that Ray does too much for his hopeless brothers. Abby, the most insecure of the characters, asks Ray if Ashley only talks to her because she has a thing for Ray. Ray assures Abby that he protects his female clientele, and they sometimes get confused, but that he remains faithful. We’re not sure how true this is, given his little smooch-sesh with Ashley earlier. Ladies be havin’ daddy issues.

But wait, there’s more! Bunchy and Terry reveal to Ray that he has a half-black brother, Darrell. They’ve known about him for over 10 years, and he’s actually here, RIGHT NOW! Darrell enters the room and tries to hug Ray, but gets kicked to the curb. The brothers also reveal to Ray that their father was just released from prison five years earlier than expected.

Then there’s Ezra. We don’t know much about him, but we know Ray thinks of him as a family member, and that Ezra is the reason Ray does what he does. At Ezra’s wife’s funeral, he says he wants come clean about all the bad things he’s done with Ray. He acts bipolar, inviting his mistress to the funeral, then screaming at her to leave, only to ask her to come back again later. The mistress suspects something is wrong with Ezra. She’s right, as we later find Ezra in a full suit, confused, wading in the tide outside Stu Feldman’s party.

Abby suspects Ray is sleeping with Ashley and she kicks him out for the night. Turns out Ray has his own place in LA: a bachelor pad filled with family pictures and a chess board …  party! Ray looks at pictures of his little sister, Bridget, and cries. He later reveals to his daughter, named after his late sister, that Bridget died from getting high and jumping off of a rooftop. His daughter cries, beginning to see the pain of the Donovan family.

At Stu’s party, Stu tells Abby he’ll make sure the Donovan kids are banned from all the private schools because Ray slept with his girlfriend. Ray chases him down, pulls a gross gangster move and snaps Stu’s creepy wrist in his own house. Ray seems to really love Abby, though, as they share a few laughs, a dance and some rigid sexual energy throughout the pilot episode.

Finally, Ray asks Abby if she’s been in contact with his father. He gives the best quote of the episode, and says, “My father comin’ here … If you let him near this family, everything we worked for, everything we built — it’ll be over. Whatever you think happened, it was 10 times worse. Don’t let the wolf in the gate, Abby.”

What’s a girl with insecurities, trust issues and spiteful energy to do? Let the wolf in the gate, probably…

The Mystery of Mickey (Creep #3)

The pilot opens with Ray’s father Mickey (Jon Voight) being released from Walpole Mass. State Correctional Facility. A guard ominously warns him, “It’s a different world out there,” as Mickey snags his small sack of personal items. He’s been locked up for 20 years. Charges: unknown.

Mickey’s first venture into his life as a free man is a visit to an old man’s apartment. He enters the apartment, calls the old man a “c***sucker,” puts a barrel in his mouth and kills him. As my grandma always says, “Ya kiss ya motha with that mouth?” Mickey is merciless, vengeful, reckless and clearly doesn’t care much for parole. Screw The Man!

His second order of business is a sexual escapade with his black lover, who we can assume is his ex-girlfriend and mother to Darrell. They smoke a joint and dance naked together as he disregards her suggestions to “take it easy.” He’s gross, sleazy, almost violating — and I’m not just saying that because of his saggy old man body.

Against Ray’s hopes to never see his father again, Mickey decides to fly from Boston to California to visit his boys. On the plane, he winks at a woman breastfeeding, smirking as he makes her uncomfortable and solidifying his creepy, vile persona.

Once in Cali, Mickey gathers his four sons in Terry’s gym, claiming he wants to make amends. He cracks a dirt-bag joke about leveling the Catholic church with registered sex offenders, then reveals a sliver of plotline: last time he saw Ray, Mickey was on his way to Hollywood, and claims that Ray set him up. For what? We don’t know. But 20 years later, he’s out and killed the priest who molested Bunchy (the old man “c***sucker.”) He claims some powerful people are after him. Mickey sleazily asks about Ray’s grandkids, sending Ray into a violent rage, forcing his brothers to pull him off Mickey.

Finally, the father of the year does cocaine with his son Bunchy, then pays a visit to Ray’s wife Abby. He speaks with Abby about the multiple letters he wrote her, she lets him in and his granddaughter embraces him. Take a shower, girl!

The wolf is in the gate. I repeat, the wolf is in the gate.

Ray, the Grizzly Bear

Ray has a dark, scary, mysterious, rough-around-the-edges aura, but it’s clear he’s a secret softie. From the comforting, non-judging look he gives Tommy that brings him to tears to the heartfelt bear-hug he gives vulnerable Bunchy … Ray’s got a soft side for family, which I’m sure will prove problematic as he continues to get emotionally involved in his work. Can I get a hug, Liev?!

Best Quotes

“You set me up, mother-f*****.” — Mickey to Ray

“You go near my family, I’ll f****n’ kill you.” — Ray to Mickey

“I’m an old man, I need to make it right.” — Mickey to Abby

“You think you’re the first person I’ve dealt with to wake up with a dead body?” — Ray

“You’re gonna be taking it up the ass in 3D for the rest of your life.” — Lee to Tommy

“The guy had an Adam’s Apple the size of my fist.” — Lee regarding the tranny

“Suck one c***, you’re a c***sucker for life. Get caught with a dead girl, admit to a drug problem, go to rehab … crazy town.” — Lee

“No lie lives forever Raymond, it’s time to pay the piper.” — Ezra

“You’re sick, Ray. You got a hole in your heart.” — Abby

Ray Donovan airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.

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(Image courtesy of Showtime)


Contributing Author, BuddyTV