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TV Review – Is Ray Donovan Over?

Boston gangsters + Hollywood = Departed with Palm trees.

BQB here to talk about the surprise ending to the Season 5 finale of “Ray Donovan.”

SPOILER ALERT.

Repeat – Spoiler Alert.  If you haven’t seen the Season 5 finale yet, read no further.

“Ray Donovan” has always be an acquired taste.  In my mind, it always seems as though the show suffered from a bit of schizophrenia.  Is it about a family of South Boston hoodlums who relocate to LA in the hopes of leaving their past behind only to bring their demons with them?  Is it about the baseball bat wielding fixer that celebrities call when their nights of drinking and debauchery get out of it?

Short answer: It’s both.  Sometimes it’s A.  Sometimes it’s B.  In my opinion, it’s more A than B.  We come for the Hollywood fixing but we stay for the relocated Boston crime family drama.

It’s inevitable that a fixer would have a past.  The idea of a show about the man actors/musicians/etc. call to get them out of a jam is interesting and original.  It makes sense that we see how the fixer became such a gruesome bastard, but there’s only so much time in one hour and historically, the family drama often beats out the Hollywood fixing.

Ray’s clients are often caricatures of famous celebrities.  For example this past season, there’s a run in with “Jay White,” an African-American actor who starred on a popular sitcom as a teenager only to become a blockbuster action star.  (Will Smith anyone?)  Meanwhile, Ray has a tryst with a comic book style movie series actress who is reminiscent of any number of interchangeable silver screen hot babes.

That’s the rub.  The show’s challenge has always been to make you believe the people Ray is working with (or working over with his bat) are big time stars and yet, they’re invariably played by no-name B listers.  Occasionally, some A-listers will stop by for a season.  Ian McShane and Katie Holmes fought over Ray’s loyalty as a father/son sports franchise owner team last season.  Susan Sarandon plays Ray’s benefactor/client/movie studio executive this time around.  Personally, I always wondered if the show strayed too far from the first season formula where Elliot Gould played the aging yet powerful Hollywood agent who always called on Ray to get his talent out of hot water.

In short, it’s tough to make the viewer think a fictional famous client is important when the actor playing the role isn’t that famous.  As a longtime fan of the show, I’ve often wondered why some real celebrities don’t show up to request Ray’s services but then I realize a) people are stupid and some might think that Actor Joe Blow asking Ray for help in a drama might mean Actor Joe Blow really did something that requires a fixer’s help in real life.  B) getting real actors to play themselves would result in a parody, i.e. the slew of famous people who make cameos on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as Larry David’s Hollywood friends/enemies.

But I throw that all aside for the fact that the show’s concept is original and as far as I know, never done before.  I can’t think of another TV show about a Hollywood fixer.  If there has been one, let me know.

Ultimately, the family drama is more gripping.  While Liev Schreiber plays the show’s namesake, it’s Jon Voight who steals the show as Ray’s conniving father/Southie hoodlum Mickey Donovan.

If you want to know what Mickey is all about, there’s one scene I can point to.  There’s an episode where Mickey, well into his seventies, takes a seat at a retirement home next to another old timer.  The old man is Mickey’s age.  The old man talks of bingo and crafts, dinner at four and so on.  Mickey finds this all distasteful and runs.  He is forever a young man trapped in an old man’s body.  His only thoughts are a) pussy and b) pulling off heists/scores/scams to obtain said pussy.  Mickey invariably gets his family members into trouble and Ray spends most of his time bailing his family members out of Mickey’s shenanigans.

Yet, when all is said and done, Mickey puts on the old Irish charm, tells a joke, cracks a smile and somehow convinces whoever he wronged that it was really their fault, because he’s just a dumb old man.  Worse, his lack of remaining years means he just doesn’t give a fuck, so he doesn’t care who he hurts.  Occasionally though, it does appear that he legitimately feels bad about hurting his family. He will feel bad, but he’s got a short attention span, so he’ll pull more shit next week.  Ray is the only one who sees through the bullshit.  The remaining family members often get roped into the bullshit.

Ray’s brothers include the lovable man-child Bunchy (Dash Mihok), a grown man who never really grew up.  Easily fooled and gullible.  Often tricked into doing stupid things.  Really wants to prove to Ray that he’s smart and can hold his own.  Often fucks things up when he tries too hard and bites off more than he can chew.

Also, Terry (Eddie Marsan), ex-boxer suffering from Parkinson’s who owns a gym and trains young fighters.  Only member of the family who actually wants to obey the law and be legit.  Suffers when he is pulled down into the bullshit.

Also, Daryll, the family’s half-African American brother from an affair Mickey had with a black woman, Mickey’s insatiable fetish for nubian goddesses being a running source of fun throughout the show.  Daryll yearns for family acceptance.  He’s young so he wants to make something of himself but often gets tricked into Mickey’s schemes.

Longtime suffering wife Abby (Paula Malcomson), and spoiled kids Bridget and Connor (Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby) round out the show.

OK.  Where was I?  The finale.  So, I didn’t quite realize it until Ray was standing on the edge of that building, but it would seem that if the show were to end here, it would be the perfect ending to a series where everything wraps up nicely and all of the characters’ arcs, save for maybe one or two, are accounted for.

At the end of the series 5 finale, Ray sees a false vision of Abby, who dies earlier in the season from cancer.  Ray follows her to the edge of a tall city building rooftop.  He stands on the edge.  The moment is drawn out.  Will he jump?  Will he step back?  Will he wait there and we’ll find out next season if he takes the plunge?

Finally, he jumps.  He falls a long height and plunges into the water below.  The future of the series is in doubt.  I mean, honestly, for most normal people, a fall from that height, just the shock alone, would kill them.  The plunge into the water would likely be fatal.  I mean, it’s water, but still, there’s force involved.  Force that’s not good for the body.

Ray plunges deeper and deeper.  His eyes close.  The show could end here…or Ray could magically swim to the top and take a deep breath of life at the start of Season 6 if Showtime asks for another round.  This could be Ray’s death or his baptism and absolution.  Maybe he’s died having realized he can’t escape his demons or maybe he’ll be reborn, pledging to forget what he’s done and start using his fixer skills for good.  (Or maybe a draw in the middle where he swims to shore, does his usual schtick of bagging some bimbo, drinking too much, punching one of his dumb brothers in the face then starting on a new fixer adventure.)

If the show ends here, it’s a perfect ending for:

RAY – His shrink just told him to undergo years of therapy to remove his past trauma.  In Ray fashion, he takes a shortcut and dies.

ABBY – The long suffering wife.  Put up with  years of Ray’s cheating due to an old fashioned idea of standing by her man, staying in for the kids and ultimately, because she does love Ray and Ray at least lies about his affairs although rarely convincingly.  She’s dead and does not deserve to be.  She deserved some sort of happy ending but at least she doesn’t have to put up with the bullshit anymore.

BUNCHY – He’s finally somebody.  He’s finally successful, doing something he can do.  He is a bar owner.  He has money.  He has learned from his stupidity.  He looks like a man with a plan when he lays out his vision to revitalize the bar.  He has his daughter.  He mustered up the balls to tell his cheating wife to take a hike.  He’ll always be somewhat stupid, but he has found a little piece of the world where, if he sticks with it, he’ll probably be alright.

TERRY – Finally training a young fighter who could be the next big name boxer.  Was ominously charged with looking after Bridget, so if Ray is dead, he has a quasi-daughter.  He might finally find fortune as a famous boxing trainer and be able to fund his life without being dragged into bullshit schemes.

DARYLL – Now a big time producer, but it came at a price.  As far as we know, he gets to live a life of fame and fortune, but he’ll always be haunted by the shit his family dragged him into.

MICKEY – In jail.  Sort of unfair that he didn’t commit this murder but, you know, he’s done shit a lot worse, like tons of shit much worse he never got caught for so, yeah, he’s where he deserves to be.  The DA offers to let Mickey live out his life in a prison’s elderly wing if he confesses.  If he doesn’t, he’ll face lethal injection.  Mickey shows the true power of old age by telling the DA to do his worst and then the gambler boats he’ll be returning to his game of solitaire, one he might actually win (he’s a card player throughout the series.)  Ray has finally gotten his revenge against the old man.

BRIDGET – Going to school in New York.  Boyfriend Smitty lives.  Told by Susan Sarandon’s character that not everyone is lucky enough to have a father like Ray Donovan.  I wanted to thank Susan for that.  As shitty as Ray is, he has used his shitty skills to extract Bridget from stupid mistakes that her young, dumb brain did not think through.  She would inevitably trash talk her father afterwards and though yes, Ray is a bad man, I found myself yelling at the screen often, asking if this dummy ever realized that if her father was, say, an accountant and not a baseball bat wielding sociopath, she’d probably be dead or in jail or worse because of space brain?

CONNOR – The last scene with Connor puts on full display on ongoing dispute between fathers and sons, any parent and any kid really.  The Greatest Generation thought the Baby Boomers were dumb hippies who wanted to dance all day instead of getting jobs.  The Baby Boomers thought Generation X and Millenials were just pop culture crazed imbeciles who never had to brave the dangers of a Vietnam.  The good news is, thus far, the world has been getting better, but the bad news is that parents, as they get old, rarely are happy their hard work has led to lives of comfort for their kids.  Instead, they are often jealous their kids have so much while they had so little.

It’s a running problem throughout the series.  Ray and Abby rip Bridget and Connor a new one constantly, telling them they’re spoiled brats and they’re soft and weak because they have had it too good.  Parents, be careful with that, as it appears Connor has heard this one too many times.  Apparently, Dad can only tell his son he’s a pussy one too many times before son joins the Marines and vows to turn himself into a bad ass motherfucker and return to make Dad his bitch.

Honestly, I kinda hope there is a sixth season just so we can see Connor make Ray his bitch.

AVI – Ray’s longtime partner in crime is hopefully on a beach in South America somewhere.

LENA – Ray’s lesbian, messy haired partner in crime was one of the cooler characters of the series, somewhat underutilized though there was one cool episode where she pretties herself up to take a mark down.  We never really got to know her that well.  We aren’t told what’s next for her.  As far as we know, she’ll stare at the computer eating Chinese food for a day or two before she realizes Ray is never coming back and looks for another job.

CONCLUSIONS:

So, yeah, if the show ends here, it had a good run, and it all ties together nicely.  Part of me hopes it isn’t brought back.  I’m not sure what more can be done.  For some characters, say Bunchy, Bridget and Terry, it’s a happy ending.  For others, Mickey and Ray, it’s unhappy but more or less the ending they deserved.  Lena is the only question mark.

If they bring it back, they’ll be hard pressed to come up with a better ending and also, they’ll need to let us know if Lena finds the lesbian of her dreams.

 

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TV Review – Ray Donovan

Is this a show about a Hollywood fixer or a family whose mobster father’s crimes keep coming back to haunt them?

I don’t know….I’m not sure the people behind the show know either, but either way, I like it.

BQB here with a review of the Showtime series Ray Donovan.

About to close its fourth season, this show stars Liev Schreiber as the titular character Ray Donovan, the man that Hollywood celebrities go to with problems that can’t be handled through regular channels (i.e. the police, lawsuits, etc.)

I have to admit it, when I first started watching the show in 2013, I thought this sounded like a great premise.  Surely there must be a seedy underbelly to Hollywood that we mere mortals never see.

The series began strong.  Ray beats up a pop star’s stalker with a baseball bat.  As the show moves on, he blackmails celebs, hides their dead bodies, etc.

Problem – the show, pretty much from the start, made the Hollywood stuff a side dish and the family drama the entree.

Ray’s father is Mickey (Jon Voight) , an ex-convict recently released after serving a long stretch.  Despite being in his seventies, Mickey is constantly plotting a heist, a hustle, any number of get rich quick schemes that threaten to tear the Donovan clan asunder.

It goes without saying that looking out for his brothers is Ray’s second full-time job.

Here, the actors who play Ray’s brothers shine.  British actor Eddie Marsan is boxing club owner/trainer Terry.  Marsan’s performance captures the essence of a man who is single, getting older, clearly depressed over not having a family of his own and wishing he could have done more in life.  His brain was willing but his past boxing career left his body weak.

Meanwhile Dash Mihok stars as slow yet loyal Bunchy, sort of like the family puppy dog who from time to time declares that he too can put on his big boy pants only to end up causing trouble.  Still, you can’t help but hope that Bunch puts on those big boy pants one day.

Pooch Hall, a boxer in his own right, is the Donovan family’s black half-brother, Daryll aka ‘Black Irish’ a young, wannabe boxer and the product of Mickey’s affair behind the late Mrs. Donovan’s back.

The show follows a basic formula:

  • Ray tells Mickey to go F himself and never talk to anyone in the family ever again because he is tired of cleaning up after him.
  • Mickey ignores Ray and concocts an illegal scheme.
  • Mickey is so charming that he tricks one, two, or sometimes all three of the Donovan brothers into helping him.
  • Mickey’s plan is botched, resulting in potential criminal charges, arrests, and/or other criminals coming after the Donovans.
  • Ray, not wanting to see one, two, or all three of his brothers go to jail or worse, uses his fixer skills to bail them out.

I’ll say this for the show – it is schizophrenic.  A third of the time it is about scummy Hollywood life and the other two-thirds are devoted to the family drama.

Is it a Hollywood fixer show or is it The Departed with palm trees?  (Oh, I forget to mention the Donovans are all Bostonites transplanted to California, so expect a lot of wicked bad Bah-stahn accents, kid.)

Other cast members:

  • Ray’s henchman Avi, an ex-Israeli agent played by Steven Bauer who often tells Ray the hard truths he doesn’t want to hear.
  • Ray’s hench-woman, Lena – messy haired lesbian played by Katherine Moennig.  I thought it was interesting that this show has a hench-woman.  And she doesn’t do the stereotypical “oh let me put on a pretty dress and fool the men” schtick.  She is a pretty serious member of Ray’s fixing operation.
  • The other Donovans – Paula Malcolmson as Ray’s wife Abby, who puts up with Ray’s constant cheating and Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby as Conor and Bridget.)  Viewers, you may not be able to relate to a bat wielding leg breaker like Ray (and that’s no doubt a good thing) but if you’re a parent, you can probably relate to the spoiled brat hi jinx that Ray and Abby have to deal with on a regular basis.

At times, I have thought that the show would be better if it would pick one angle and stick with it.

If it is going to be a show about a Hollywood fixer, then focus on Ray doing illegal shit to get celebrities out of trouble…OR…

…if it is going to be about a man who constantly has to bail his dumb father and brothers out of trouble, then focus on that.

But somehow, this cast and the folks behind the show make it work, tie it altogether, and provide a good story.

Thus I can’t fault them for having two angles.

I keep coming back to find out what will happen next and that is always a sign of a good TV show in my book.

And while Jon Voight has had a long career starring in many acclaimed movies, in my mind, his role as Mickey “I do horrible things that ruin my family’s lives but I’m so charming they forgive me in five seconds” Donovan is what I will remember him for years from now.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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