Ray Donovan looked to me like a full waste of time when I first saw it released. The star, Liev Schreiber, didn't seem to me to be any type of leading man. Let's face it, he was just creepy in the Scream films, and if he did anything else, I can't recall or didn't see it.
The premise seemed like a stretch as well, Hollywood giving itself a gangster tinge, and so I never bought it. I was surprised that it hung around, but not enough to jump in, until now.
The show stretches my comfort level, with enjoyment and some celebration of these awkward characters. This review is done after watching the first two seasons.
Writing -I've found a lot of depth in this writing, maybe just because the bar is set so low with regular television, but I think I've mentioned that shows on HBO, Netflix, Showtime, AMC, and sometimes even USA or FX, raise the bar.
I'm not sure that it is all scripted into the scenes, but this show takes the non-verbal response to a full plot device. I'll cover this more in talking about the acting in this show, but some belongs here. These are characters whose maybe sole cross trait is their inability to communicate verbally, except for Jon Voight, whose character apparently can't shut up.
This show does a really good job of juggling plot lines, across episodes, and even seasons, there are a good many plot threads and none are obviously left hanging. This show revolves around the character Ray Donovan's ability as a fixer, while showing in the end that nothing is ever really fixed.
The characters are filled out, believable, evolving, and outside of the stereotypical lines usually drawn. Maybe the only one that is overstated is Mickey Donovan, but Jon Voight makes it work, and is clearly enjoying himself as the deeply flawed, self-centered matriarch who can both ingratiate and alienate everyone in a block radius.
If not for the people around him, Ray's character could be the least inspiring, but the nuances of his brothers are reflected subtly in the tough guy lines and scowls.
His brothers are my favorites. His brother Terry, a retired fighter, running a gym, with Parkinsons Disease, possibly brought on by his father allowing him to stay in the ring too long in a fight. This is the guy I bet everyone roots for, and who seems to take on the brunt of the other's failures.
Ray's other brother Bunchy is also severely damaged, mainly because he was abused by a priest as a child. Season 1 he was a drunk, Season 2 recovering but finding obstacles. Through the changes, the character remains strongly drawn.
Ray's wife is also drawn with consistent complications, and evolving through the show.
One point I notice as I go through the seasons is the way that a season has a way of quickly tidying itself up as episode 12 rolls up, taking care of some insurmountable looking issues while now reserving the premise that nothing is really ever over.
Liev SchreiberThe King of the non-verbal response, is Schreiber. That weird, creepy face from Scream can be stretched out into long silences in this show, some whole scenes, with a well staged flashback, are framed and narrated by just this scowl, or variations of it. Sometimes I hear the Christian Bale Batman in some of his comments, more like grunts, but then he will have some on target sequences that make the rest of it seem valid. This performance does make the Scream part seem again like a cameo.
Eddie MarsanThis actor looked familiar, but nothing I saw in his IMDB listing told me where I saw him. his portrayal, a very physically demanding one, is hard to do correctly and can look ridiculous, but he is compelling.
Many of these characters make me uncomfortable, you watch them deliver scripted lines that they truly look like they are random and could be anything in each reaction.
Terry is the demarcation line for the characters that cause discomfort, you like the guy, you are rooting for the guy, but some shots of him, are of a man in constant stress, pain, with his core goodness spilling out and around it.