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Ray Donovan S01E01: "The Bag or the Bat"

(Optional reading music, click the play button to listen.)


"Ray Donovan is a man who can fix anyone's problems... except his own!" is the obvious logline for Showtime's new drama Ray Donovan, a noir-ish character study loaded with subtler versions of the cable network's sex-and-violence hallmarks. With Dexter taking its last stabs this season, there's a lot riding on Ray Donovan to become a hit (the network needs something other than Homeland to tout, and "Showtime, the home of Homeland and Gigolos!" just won't do). But that won't happen right out of the gate if Ray Donovan's sleepy pilot episode, "The Bag or the Bat," is any indication. This is a series that's going to take its sweet time building toward something special, if it does so at all, and I'm more inclined to let the internet tell me when/if that happens than I am to watch it myself just in case. 

It's a shame, too. Because Ray Donovan is built like a quality show with a solid pedigree. It's got a great cast and an accomplished creator in Ann Biderman, who birthed Southland and is an Emmy winner from her days on NYPD Blue. A quick glance at the show and you'd think you were looking at a future Emmy winner, but while watching the premiere I found it to be one of those things that sounds good on paper but fails in practice, like catapulting all your garbage out of sight. At times the pilot was good, at times it was shockingly bad, but mostly it stayed within that region no television show wants to be in: uninteresting.

You can tell what Ray Donovan wants to be. It wants to borrow from The Sopranos and its fascinating anti-hero protagonist, it wants to roll around in the Golden State's dirt on the other side of the law of LA Confidential, and it wants to tell the untold stories of Entourage, the ones that take place after Vinny Chase has left the party and it's time to pick up the dirty drawers and rolled-up dollar bills from the floor. Unfortunately, those influences don't seem to come together in Ray Donovan

But where the premiere did work was in a few characters and performances, specifically anything dealing with the main conflict between Ray (Liev Schrieber) and his recently jail-sprung father Mickey (Jon Voight). It took me two viewings to appreciate the effectiveness of Schrieber's anti-acting as the guarded, calculating Hollywood fixer, and his minimalist performance is bound to be picked at by many. But the mystery behind Ray's dying eyes and just-hit-by-a-frying-pan stare is going to be the heart of the series, and it's one of the intriguing things Ray Donovan has going for it, even if the stoic anti-hero is nothing new. Even better, Voight was born to play the role of Mickey; Angelina's dad was maniacally diabolic in the first hour, and despite putting a pistol in a priest's mouth and pulling the trigger, he was easily the most charismatic of the entire bunch of characters. Ray Donovan sizzles when Voight is on the screen.

Unfortunately, Voight isn't on the screen all the time. Because of Ray's quiet demeanor, supporting characters were saddled with overcompensating ticks, ailments, and addictions that defined them, in place of good old reliable personality. Ray's buddy Ezra (Elliot Gould) has a mind that is turning into motor oil. Former Disney pop star Ashley (Ambyr Childers) has daddy issues that manifest as sexual advances. Mickey is an ex-con. Ray's brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) was molested by a priest when he was a kid, and these days he's an alcoholic. Ray's other brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) has Parkinsons from keeping his boxing gloves down too often. Ray's younger sister committed suicide. Celebrity lawyer Lee (Peter Jacobson) opens his mouth and a stream of profanities and high-blood pressure gushes out. And Ray's muscle Avi (Steven Bauer) has a really thick accent! Okay, they're not all that bad, but there's a lot of telling instead of showing in the way these characters are handled. Ray Donovan's Los Angeles isn't a place full of polished celebrity glamor and crisp dollar bills, or even regular folks making it in the world. It's a circus of addicts, freaks, and lowlifes passing suitcases full of dirty money back and forth. 

That all fits into Showtime's tired penchant for loving f*cked-up people and situations for the sake of sensationalism instead of storytelling, which dumbed things down for me. "The Bag of the Bat" was a parade of attention-grabbing arm-waving. Let's recount what happened, which we can assume amounts to a typical day in Ray's life: A priest was murdered, a pro basketball player woke up next to a dead girl, an action star got busted picking up a transvestite, a guy masturbated to a woman doing yoga, a bar fight broke out, Ashley's sexual advances on an adulterous Ray were interrupted by an epileptic fit, Ray discovered he had a grown-up half-black brother and wasn't pleased about it, Mickey danced in his underwear with his black girlfriend, Ray dyed Ashley's stalker green, Mickey watched a woman breastfeed for no reason, Ashley stalked Ray by showing up at his wife's yoga class, Ashley gave Ray a blowjob while he was driving, a Marilyn Monroe picture asked Ray to f*ck it, Ray had a dream about a kid (probably Bunchy) giving a priest a blowjob in a car (that's two driving BJs if you're keeping score at home), Ray also dreamed about his sister's suicide, Ray broke a guy's wrist in the pocket of a billiard table, and Ray used Ashley's stalker as a batting cage. 

That's a lot of weird shit to happen in one episode, and I'm all about weird shit, but it felt empty and crammed-in just to provide talking points. Ashley was already messed-up enough; did the writers have to give her epilepsy, too? Was Ray on something harder than alcohol to make that 2-D Marilyn Monroe talk, or was it just time for something completely odd to happen? Are Ray's dreams anything more than memories, and if so, isn't there a better way to show that his memories are haunting him? It all seems like laziness and mountains of studio notes asking for "More! More! More!" instead of a focused television series, a trademark that's all too common on Showtime nowadays (Homeland's first season being an exception). 

And that's probably the toughest part of reviewing the premiere of Ray Donovan. There's no real sense of a series here; it was sold as a show about a Hollywood fixer, yet the first two problems he encountered (the girl who overdosed with the basketball star and the action star who likes chicks with dicks) were resolved and forgotten after about 10 minutes. Will future episodes see Ray spend more time "fixing," or will his clients just contribute short snippets to fill the hour and deliver the scandal quotient? There's nothing entirely new or fresh about the series so far, provided you've seen any hard-boiled detective movie ever. 

But this very well could be just me. Though Ray Donovan doesn't feature any silhouettes of dames smoking cigarettes, it broods like film noir, a cinematic and narrative style I've never really been a fan of. In the premiere, characters rattled off dialogue with all the flavor of plain yogurt. Violins whined as montages featured characters just driving in cars (or pretending they were driving while a screen simulated the street going by). And many scenes awkwardly collided with each other head-on. To me, noir has always postured as graceful, but here it felt clumsy. So far, Ray Donovan does a lotta trippin'.



NOTES


– It's early, but the show already has a problem with female characters. Abby is a yelping wife who's grumpy with her hub-hub, Ashley is an exploited piece of meat, and Lena, Ray's assistant who we've barely met, only has the label of being a lesbian. Though to be fair, every character we've met so far is messed up, and there's time to turn things around. This is one very macho show.

Ray Donovan has plenty of cursing, but it's not the right kind of cursing. Most of it comes from Peter Jacobson's Lee, and it lacks any biting poetry. It's just cursing. Lazy cursing. 

– A lot of the character issues I mentioned could've been solved with better dialogue. Punch up what the characters are saying, and it helps define them. But too many people speak in the same voice—the writer's voice, which is unfortunately bland—and it'd hard to separate them as a result.


What'd you think of Ray Donovan's series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2? 

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 6/26/2016

Season 4 : Episode 1

Next Episode

AIRS ON 7/3/2016

Season 4 : Episode 2

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First episode was terrible. The acting was poor at best and the overall episode was boring, really boring. I will look at another 2 episodes at least just to see if any of it will change.
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How can anyone seriously not like film noir? One of the few styles who actually gave some style to american cinema, heavily inlfuenced by european though.
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Another show about a middle aged man who cheats on his wife and has family problems. Can they not come up with story lines that are actually not tired or boring?
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"That's a lot of weird shit to happen in one episode..." -- LOL! Worst pilot I've seen in a long time.
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I'd like to give it another episode because that seems the fair thing to do but unfortunately I was so disinterested by this show I have to call it quits.
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I liked the show and it earned at the very least a few more episodes for me. It's the effin pilot dude their not going to spell everything out in the first episode like some bad action movie! The only part I didn't like was the wife who was incredibly annoying cliché. Hopefully they faze her character out or make her a bit more well rounded. Other than that it's got a great base for what hopefully is a quality show will see... but so far I thought it was pretty good with potential
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It's earned one more episode to prove itself, on the strength of its casting alone. Otherwise: Storyline: thin, character definition: shallow, plot: subject of a search and rescue op, I hope. They must have signed the cast without having to show them a script. I hope the rest of the show rises to make use of the capabilities it has at hand.
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This show is great!! Already one of my favorite shows!
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reaaaally boring! definitely won't be back!
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4 episodes to be sure.
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I'm ready for Showtime to stop carrying shows that seem to equate black people with seedy characters. "Shameless" has a tendency to do that. I found that with "Ray Donovan," too. Granted, none of the characters in either show has overall redeeming qualities. But the "he sleeps with black women" joke/plot for shock value is a vehicle left with Jim Crow days. The sooner Hollywood gets that, the better.
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Despite the nails-on-a-chalkboard accents I'm giving it the 4 episode test.
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It was only the first episode, the 10 minutes of 'fixing' was to give viewers a glimpse of what he does and will be doing, and the rest was setting up the characters and relationships. Im in the opninion that Tim's wrong on this one, again.

Plus showtime is more than just Dexter or Homeland, it has Shameless, House of Lies and Californication. Anti-hero protagonist is borrowing from The Sopranos? In that case isnt most every protagonist borrowing from The Sopranos these days? And really they dont need to borrow from the Sopranos, they could borrow from their own amazing show Brotherhood.
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I think it showed potential for some real messed up stuff to do down. I plan on staying with it.
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You forgot about Shamless and Nurse Jackie. Both included on the successful money making machine for Showtime. Either through views and/or fans and the critics.
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Unfortunately I found this show so dull I quit mid way through.
I'll tune back in if the Internet informs me of anything of interest happening.
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Unfortunately, this show is full of stereotypes. It's a buncha non-original ideas and characters that were glued together for no reason. I've read Ann Biderman's interview and as much as I liked her Southland and as much as I get her intention to do what da hell she wanna do (that means macho shows) I think this show of hers is full of stereotypes and that is a sad thing. Irish-american family must be of course from Boston (ms. Biderman didn't give interviewer any clear explanation why Boston). And of course if they are Irish and from Boston one family member is a boxer, another is alcoholic and a loser, one out of jail recently. Only one twist that none of them is a priest but one brother has been molested by priest (or all three brothers've been molested, not sure). And I don't even wanna talk about ridiculous stuff that was happening. It was so weird and out of touch and weirdly off that it didn't leave in me nothing. I felf nothing towards these characters and these sensational events. Nothing.
Problem here with every character. Liev Schreiber isn't convincing as lead. His wife is flat. His kids are furniture. And most bad acting's coming from actress who plays wanna be singer and occasional epileptic mistress of Donovan. That character must be killed immediately. It's embarassment for the Showtime. It's just blonde stereotype that acts erratically and without any logic and that has no life. It's loser show for Showtime
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I liked this more than Tim did, but his points echo my feelings. The characters all seem to have a little too much wrong with them. Does the punch-drunk brother really need Parkinson's too? Ray's wife seemed to be channeling Carmela Soprano, which I hate, because I hated Carmela. In fact, the only thing I didn't like about The Sopranos is the one thing I sense they borrowed here; all the women, while trying to come off as world wise and independent and strong, just come off as manipulative and bitchy and unlikable.

But that said, I did seem to enjoy the pilot more than the reviewer. I thought the "fixing" was interesting, and added some necessary humor. Hopefully we get some more of that. Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight were both great. I'm definitely not anywhere near not watching this show.
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The premiere of Ray Donovan got my attention since a friend of mine does the music for this show. I was kind of liking Ray Donovan in the same way as one would have liked Tony Soprano. I liked his ingenuity with his treatment of a stalker by making him take a bath in a tub of green RIT dye. I found myself feeling just a little deceived by falling for his soft spoken and thoughtful interaction with his wife and kids but then suddenly turning a bat onto the bad stalker and pulverizing him to a pile of mush. I'm not buying the grumpy Abby wife character. She was upset when she found that Ray had let someone give him a BJ but then goes directly against him after he clearly warned her not to let his father in their lives. I don't know what her motivation would be against his wishes.
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Some additional musical accompaniment:

"Express yourself
(You've got to make him)
Express himself
RAY, RAY, RAY, RAY
So if you want it right now, make him show you how
Express what he's got, oh baby ready or not
Express yourself
(You've got to make him)
So you can respect yourself
RAY, RAY
So if you want it right now, then make him show you how
Express what he's got, oh baby ready or not"

For fuck's sake, Ray, use your words!
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I really, really wanted to like this series. No, I did. I would have forgiven it a flaw or two. But it's ALL flaws. And hey, the entire season is full of flawed characters with difficult problems. Hannibal, King and Maxwell, and several others. Everyone's flawed, dude. But Ray, he's got a serious issue. The writing of his show sucks!
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A lot of great ideas and great actors, so far the cohesion or sympathising with any of the charactres is lacking, will switch in next week but it depends on that.........
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I enjoyed it, it's got that slow burn approach which I find hard to get on board with but this kept me interested. Liev is a compelling actor, because even when he isn't acting he looks tormented. I think this show has the potential to be a solid 3 season performer with a real insight into the Hollywood world so few of us will ever actually permeate.
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I enjoyed the pilot, but I'm waiting to see more. To be perfectly honest, I'm waiting to meet James Woods' character, because I think I would have sex with that man if I could.
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Human Target well acted??
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The first season was great.
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I dont know if this is a jab or not, but if it is: fuck you, Human Target had awesome acting and fucking Chi McBride. If it's not, then you're okay in my book.
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Human Target was great.
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No kidding I watched the first episode of Human Target. Well, maybe the full episode, for a cast made up of high school drama club actors, the show rocked. I'm waiting to see if they continue the show past the pilot.
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fully agree. the pilot was barely watchable. I would call it a waste of money.
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I'm certainly nowhere near giving up on this -- unless it gets stupid, I'm in this for the long haul -- but for the most part, I agree with Tim in this article. It was just okay for me.

I am hoping and expecting that future episodes will pick it up and get better, as the main problem for me was that the premiere episode featured a shit ton of stuff, and it seems like the reason is because instead of "unfolding" all these different plots and characters, the episode tried to start and portray ALL of them. I'd probably have been happier with less, with a bigger focus on the 'fixing' part of the show. It's that premise, along with the cast, that I still really like.
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Completely disagree with Tim.
I for one did not even want to see this show after watching the pilot, but for some reason
i did catch it and was pleasantly surpised. It even lingered with me days after, which is a pretty good indication in my book. Not sure where the show is going but i'm hooked!
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Too many plots in this show : it can't be all.
Also, it may seem like a good idea to have characters with diseases but the actors have to play those right, which they have not done : The guy who has Parkinson's only shook his hand a bit (that's not how Parkinson's works) ; as for the girl who's got epilepsy, I can't remember how she did it but it was atrocious.
A show that doesn't know where it's going, with too many characters who have too many problems. I won't be back.
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It could have been great... but it's not. Schrieber and Voight definitely came to play (which is a good thing, cause this show will live or die on their performance), but they couldn't really give their characters justice will the uneven script they had to work with here. One second, Donovan is a super-cool, calculating problem-solver/loving family man; the next, he's a confused, uber-horny dumbass who blab to a stalkery ex-client who really wants him to murder her vagina the gym where his wife goes do yoga... is it really the same guy where talking about here?

I still will give the series a shot, though - it was smart for Showtime to give it a summer run, since it's as if there's that much competition out there right now for what it's trying to sell us; but they better get better dialogues and tighter scripts. This show has too much pedigree going for it to just be such a lukewarm drama; get it together, people.
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I guess in the intro headlining what showtime has to offer instead of putting the awesome show shameless they put in a show about gigolos in what showtime has to it's name along with dexter.
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This was no good! I'll give it a chance for the second episode but I don't expect much. I agree Tim...
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I liked it and already covered why in the "Should i watch this..." article
I think the actor playing Terry has been very good in other things i have seen, so he may develop a lot more
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I will be back for episode 2. I sat down for an hour and was entertained enough to want to see what happens next. I enjoyed it for what it was, an hour of entertainment.
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you covered it perfectly in my opinion. I'll be back but I don't plan on becoming attached. on the plus side catching her on this, paula malcomson lead me to finish deadwood which i'd stopped near the end of season 2 of. now there was a fucking show.
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I like it. But it has a lot of faults. For me it felt a little similar to Californication. Right down to Ray bedding a predator in the guise of an ingenue. But where Hank tends to wallow and revel in the filth that can be the Hollywood underbelly, Ray seems to loathe it. But he wears that loathing well. Which I would say is a testament to Liev's performance.

I would say that one of the major problems is that it is trying to be too many shows. If this was a Southland style show which showed Ray and his cohorts navigate the idiocy of Hollywood actors, their odd predalictions and unfortunate and unique mistakes that lead one to require the services of someone like Ray. Ray and his team outsmarting the cops, the studios and the media. That could be a great show. Mostly because I miss Southland already and long for a replacement. You could do that and still have the family to a less extent but no Mickey.

You could have the family show with the celebs as a side but emphasize the drama of the family conflict and how it is made better or worse by those celeb connections. It would lack but it could work.

Andthen you have the knock down drag out fight between father and son slowly ebb and flow throughout a season. Slinking through the underbelly of Hollywood and trying to out do one another in life and in the eyes of Rays family. Have amorality rule the day and see how deep these characters can go. Nd go really noir.

It seems this is ttrying to compile all of these into one show. And they all kind of lacked as the result of it. I think you are right Tim you can kind of see the studio's fingerprints all over some of the aspects of the story particularly in the ex Disney girl. It might have been served better with a two hour premier.

But the one thing this is seemingly going to really lack is going to be anything resembling joy or funny. The Sopranos had some laughs, even Homeland has some chuckles and Dexter depending on your sense of humor can be hilarious. But noir really can't and that can and will turn some people off from it.

I like the gritty, I like the underbelly. I don't like the wife. As for the rest we don't really know any of them yet so hopefully we will by the 3rd episode or I might not stick around.
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This a cool new show! That said, probably kiss of death to be cancelled!
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I liked the episode a lot and think the show has much potential. The main flaws were that the father "over-acted" his part and came off cartoonish (to borrow someone else's words) and like you said, the wife was acting a fool. Sure she doesn't have the "best husband" but to let her father in law in the house was just plain stupid (stupid retaliation that will make her and her family's situation worse~at least I think it will). I would find better ways to deal with a cheating husband--divorce or bobbit-method.

The bag and bat scene were inspired! Loved those scenes.

Didn't care for the epilepsy scene but won't go into details~~for Klotensen's sake;-) But the parkinson's was fairly well (decent)
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while you assumably meant it jest, I don't assume you would think it cool for someone to talk about taking a knife to female genitalia, would you?

and no, tim had it right. the actors all did the best they could with what they had. it's poor writing, plain and simple.
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dude you be trippin'
obviously a jest...touchy are we?
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considering you still don't get it, you're an idiot.
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if the joke was done well (knife to female genitals) then I'd laugh but I also watch the Jeselnik offensive.

wow, I really touched a nerve with you to bring out the big guns of "Idiot"...lol!
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agreed and like Tim mentioned, all the things that happened was to start a web of strings of stories for the rest of season to a bunch of characters that we barely know and it felt like a bunch of those stories are boring because not enough time was spent on them or their characters.

to sum it up: too much was crammed in and not enough was said or done...? :/
it needs to focus, not go everywhere at once...still I'll be there next episode
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