Ray Donovan, Showtime’s new drama starring Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight, premiered last night and I think that it’s safe to say that it bit off way more than it can chew. The show is supposed to be about Ray, a guy whose job it is to make celebrity problems quietly disappear, navigating his career life and his family life. However, the show ends up being about Ray and his 99 family members, business partners, and acquaintances navigating all the things. Introducing a brand new set of characters to viewers is a delicate dance and it’s important that it’s done in the same way that one would go about changing a dog’s food brand: slowly, until you get annoyed with him not eating and just give him your dinner instead. You decide if that’s a metaphor or if that’s just me getting off-track. Anyway, this show did not get that memo.
Ray Donovan tries to add some dramatic flair by slipping in offhanded comments about a family member’s childhood molestation or Ray looking at a photo of a rando girl a fighting back tears. There are also flashbacks and hallucinations of a poster of Marilyn Monroe pleading with Ray to “help her”! Oh god. I think I know what the show’s creators were going for, which is a Soprano-esque vibe (minus the whacking and spaghetti), but everything ends up feeling contrived.
It also tries to layer its plot with a lot of info about characters that no one: A) knows or, B) cares about. Actually, if they took care of A, then B would solve itself. The show’s creators should take several pages out of Mad Men’s book of How To Succeed On Television, which devotes an entire chapter to the fact that you need to take your time and let your audience warm up to the characters before you have them doing crazy things as a result of past tragedies. That saves people like me from being confused by things like Ray sitting on the toilet as the stalker of some girl he’s hired to protect —but also has known for a long time and ends up hooking up with— dyes his entire body green in a bathtub. If you think that sentence is confusing (and oddly reminiscent of Big, Fat Liar), just imagine how I felt as my brain began melting out of my ears while I watched it.
The show does have some potential, though, because it’s got one of those plots that can go anywhere and take unexpected turns. I like to refer to these kinds of storylines as “Dora Plots,” named after the little cartoon explorer who has an alarming lack of parental supervision. It also has a pretty good (and large, god is it large) cast and tons of drama, which its currently its problem but could also end up being a selling point. I want to believe that it’s one of those shows that you have to stick around for a few episodes before you can really appreciate so I’ll give it another chance. But confuse me once, shame on the show; confuse me twice shame on me because I’ll need a long nap to recover.
Here’s my (admittedly inexperienced) advice to the show: just relax, mon petit Showtime drama and take your time laying your issues out on the table. I don’t totally hate you yet, I just want you to try a little less at being groundbreaking and accept yourself for what you are, okay? It’s going to be alright. Just step away from the green skin dye and maybe see a therapist once in a while so you can learn to tell people about yourself in a less aggressive way. Sound good?