If you live in an American city, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the grizzled mug of Liev Schreiber staring back at you from posters on subway stations and buses recently. Get used to it. The veteran actor could very well become TV’s next great antihero in Ray Donovan, premiering on Showtime Sunday. With intense acting and intriguing dialogue, Ray Donovan is poised to become Showtime’s leading drama as Dexter finishes up its seven-year run.
Ray Donovan tells the story of the titular character (Schreiber), a Boston tough guy who has moved to Los Angeles to become a “fixer” for Hollywood’s elite. In the first scene, Donovan is called to cover up for athlete who wakes up next to a female corpse. “You think you’re the first person I’ve dealt with who woke up in bed with a dead body?” he asks his panicking client. He later deals with sex scandals and stalkers with the same gruff forcefulness.
Donovan is more vulnerable, however, when trying to repair his dysfunctional family. His marriage with his wife Abby (the terrific Paula Malcomson) is deteriorating, and his brothers struggle with alcoholism, abuse, and Parkinson’s disease. Worst of all, his gang-linked father (a brutal Jon Voight) is out of jail for the first time in twenty years, has already committed a murder, and his trying to reinsert himself as the head of the family.
It’s clear from woozy flashbacks that Donovan has a dark past with his family in South Boston. Schreiber demands respect with his unnerving stoicism, but he also poignantly conveys a desperate man attempting to repair not only the lives of others, but his own.
Donovan’s questionable morality and personal issues place him in a growing line of crime-minded antiheroes who have captured television over the last two decades. Gone are the days of wholesome leading men with unflappable senses of right and wrong: audiences would rather follow flawed characters who fight their demons any way they can. The late James Gandolfini perfected the antihero as Tony Soprano, a capo who struggled to balance his mafia duties with his familial obligations. More recently, we’ve seen Breaking Bad’s Walter White, The Wire’s Omar Little, and Dexter’s Dexter Morgan grapple with fatherhood, psychological instability, murder, all the while harming many and arriving at no clear answers.
Schreiber's Donovan might be the most stoic and inscrutable of all of these characters so far. “You don’t talk a lot. It makes you very mysterious,” actor Stu Feldman tells him in the pilot. Schreiber's acting chops and sex appeal will no doubt rope many viewers in; whether Ray Donovan becomes a lasting show depends on the dimensions that he can tap into as a complex, deeply human character.