Tony Soprano. Walter White. Don Draper. Now add “Ray Donovan” to the list of cable TV’s most damaged dads.
The title character in this intriguingly compelling new Showtime series, premiering Sunday (June 30), is one messed-up guy. At work in L.A., he’s a fixer of sorts, making sure the errant behavior of celebrities and sports stars never makes it to the tabloids. If evidence (or people) must disappear, it’s all in the line of duty.
At home, he’s an outwardly upstanding husband and father of two, but he’s haunted by his family’s twisted roots with the Boston Irish mob.
As portrayed by Liev Schreiber, better known for his voluminous theater and film résumé, Ray is a taciturn, coiled spring of a man, letting little of the inner turmoil in his life break through to the surface. One brother, Terry (Eddie Marsan), has Parkinson’s from taking too many blows to the head as a boxer. Another brother, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), was molested by a priest as a boy and now drifts through life in a haze, trapped in perpetual adolescence. And they’re all still grieving for a sister who committed suicide years earlier.
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It’s their dad, Mickey (Jon Voight), who is the source of much of their angst, though. A career criminal who, with the help of Ray, has been behind bars in Massachusetts for 20 years but is now free, Mickey is a volatile cocktail of violence, duplicity and revenge. Voight throws himself into the role with a sinister energy, radiating a kind of creepy charisma that keeps you wondering what he’ll do next. It’s Voight’s best role in years.
Mickey has also provided his sons with a black half-brother — Daryll (Pooch Hall, “The Game”) — that they’ve only recently found out about, injecting racial elements into the show’s DNA. Meanwhile, Ray’s wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson, “Sons of Anarchy”), sporting a broad Boston accent, and the two kids are trying to fit into the Beverly Hills/Hollywood lifestyle. Though it’s the son, Conor (Devon Bagby), who shows signs of walking in his dad’s emotionally darker footsteps.
“Ray Donovan” is rife with notable supporting players, such as Elliott Gould and Peter Jacobson (“House, M.D.”) as Ray’s hotshot lawyers and Katherine Moennig (“The L Word”) as his punkish assistant.
While the pilot is a mixed bag — there are lots of characters to get to know and story threads to stitch together — “Ray Donovan” picks up over the course of the next three episodes as Mickey tries to ingratiate himself back into the family and Ray’s world begins to fall apart.
As created by Ann Biderman (“Southland”), “Ray Donovan” attempts to delve into the psyche of men and explore the boundaries of manhood. Whether this universe evolves to become as rich and rewarding as some of those of the other troubled TV father figures remains to be seen. But it’s off to a promising start.