For all of its many ills and sins, one of the great pleasures Hollywood has delivered over the last few years is binge-viewing; which is the direct result of Hollywood finally figuring out how to use the artistic medium of television to its full potential: Great actors, compelling characters, long-form stories and storytelling all wrapped in an addictive package over a full season.
Not every series reaches this level, but it is the standard now, and over the last few days I have discovered that Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” achieves that standard.
“Ray Donovan” stars the great Liev Schreiber as our title character — a Hollywood fixer to the stars. If a stripper dies in your hotel bed; a stalker won’t leave you alone; a mother won’t emancipate her talented son to a rap mogul — Ray Donovan is your man. He is outcome-oriented, ridiculously competent, unconcerned with legalities, and
never rarely lets what little conscience he has get in the way of his job.
Like most pay cable shows, “Ray Donovan” does at times go a little far in the area of uncomfortable and unnecessary sexual sleaze, but nine episodes in, I consider that a small price to pay for a story that grows more compelling with each passing hour and is populated with supernatural acting talent.
Other than Schreiber, The Mighty Elliot Gould is Ray’s boss and mentor; a man dealing with his mortality and a crisis of conscience that may or may not be the result of a brain tumor. The Mighty Jon Voight is Ray’s father from hell, a moral corruptor of everyone around him. The Mighty James Woods’s character, a Boston-based mobster on his way to Los Angeles for one last revenge-killing, has just been introduced, but already the show is that much greater for his presence.
Voight especially appears to be having a great time. Nearly thirty years have passed since his 1985 existential masterpiece “Runaway Train,” but Voight’s power to convey masculine, complicated, and unpredictable menace is just as potent as ever.
The series, as you can imagine, takes a very dim view of Hollywood and celebrity. The Catholic priest child abuse scandal is also front and center as central to the relationships between Ray, his father and brothers. Nothing about the handling of this storyline, though, comes off as Catholic-bashing. As a practicing Roman Catholic in love with my Church, if handled maturely, exploring the fallout of this horror is perfectly appropriate.
In many ways, including the title character’s home life and toxic relationship with his father, “Ray Donovan” reminds of “The Sopranos.”
But that’s a compliment.
The entire first season of “Ray Donovan” is available at Showtime On Demand.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC