A man strides out of a Boston jail, heads to a church and kills a pastor. Three thousand miles away, a man awakes in a Los Angeles hotel room to find the woman he’s caressing is lifeless and soaked in blood.
And so begins Ray Donovan, Showtime’s newest drama, which premiered on Sunday. Come for the murder, and stay for the writing and acting. The pilot of Ray Donovan (streaming on YouTube now) has a quick hook, to be sure, but it slowly unravels layers of mysteries, resulting in an intriguing cliffhanger. It’s not the most dynamic start, but if the show itself builds like the pilot does, then expect big things from Ray Donovan.
Ray Donovan centers around the titular character (Schreiber), a Boston native with a thick accent who has moved to L.A. to fix the problems of Hollywood’s elite. Five minutes into the pilot, he’s called by a professional athlete who wakes up next to an overdosed corpse; soon afterwards, he gets a call from a Shia LaBeouf-like action star who’s been caught doing compromising sexual acts on tape. Donovan’s solution is to plant the movie star in the athlete’s hotel room, erasing the latter’s situation and covering the former’s transvestite problem with a drug one. He commands the situation with deliberate, clipped sentences and a piercing stare, never losing composure once. He acts like a stoic Bond villain, making it a little unclear if we’re actually supposed to root for him.
As the pilot progresses, jumping character to character, Donovan’s morality and likeability waver back and forth. We see him as the protector and leader of his family, bailing his alcoholic brother out of jail and standing up to his abusive father. We also see him committing adultery and ignoring his wife on the most basic levels. It’s a confused, tenuous balance that has been perfected by many antiheroes before Schreiber, from Bryan Cranston’s Walter White to Christian Bale’s Batman. In the pilot, Schreiber is a gruff blank slate, save for a few minutes of drunk, introspective anguish before he passes out in his lavish downtown pad. One can only hope that Schreiber’s character will emerge from its chiseled exterior as the series progresses.
Schreiber’s intensity carries the episode, but he gets plenty of help from his supporting cast. Paula Malcolmson is excellent as Donovan’s fiery yet neglected wife Abby (although her Bah-ston accent could use some work). Even more fearsome is Jon Voight, who plays Donovan’s murderous father, Mickey. His slimy, invasive wink at a breastfeeding mother on an airplane is enough to send shivers down the spine. Ray may or may not be the story’s hero, but it’s pretty clear that Mickey is the villain.
In the end, a montage cycles through scenes of predation, drug use, and violence, ending in an old man hugging his granddaughter. The familial scene should be warm, but instead it’s twisted and terrifying. For a man who is paid to fix personal problems, Ray Donovan has lost control of his own family. Schreiber and company, however, are very much in control.
Watch the show trailer here: