You didn't really think TV was going to give you the summer off, did you?
Long gone are the days when television was a fall-to-spring affair, with a rigidly defined prime-time season followed by three months of reruns, reality-TV filler and burnoffs of leftover episodes of shows cancelled during the September-to-May schedule.
These days, TV networks introduce new programs throughout the year, as traditional broadcast networks struggle to keep pace with the quantity and quality of shows being produced for the growing number of specialty channels active in the original-series production business.
And what that means is that some top-notch dramas and comedies are being introduced during what used to be TV's fallow period -- including this week's premi®re of the new made-for-cable drama Ray Donovan, one of the most compelling and complex thrillers to arrive on premium cable in the last decade.
Ray Donovan, produced for U.S. cable's Showtime network, is an intense, mature and meticulously crafted drama that focuses on the controversial career and conflicted personal life of Ray (Liev Schreiber), a ruthlessly efficient Hollywood "fixer" who's the go-to guy for celebrities, movie producers, pro athletes and show-business moguls when scandals and criminal misdeeds create problems in their high-profile lives.
A product of a mean-streets Boston upbringing, Ray has moved his family -- wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) and kids Bridget and Conor (Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby), along with brothers Terry (Eddie Marsan) and Bunchy (Dash Mihok) -- to the West Coast to get as far away as possible from his father, Mickey (Jon Voight), an abusive and manipulative low-level Irish mobster currently serving a 25-year stretch for murder.
When the series opens, it's business as usual in Hollywood -- which, for Ray, means cleaning up the messes created when a married NBA star awakens alongside the cocaine-overdosed corpse of a young woman in a hotel room, and a macho male movie star is arrested with a transvestite hooker just a couple of days before his latest $200-million action thriller is set to open.
Neither presents all that much of a challenge for Ray and his crew -- in fact, it only takes him a couple of minutes to figure out a way to solve both problems at the same time. He's very good at what he does, and his clients -- most notably power-broker lawyers Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) and Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson) -- compensate him well for his efforts.
When it comes to handling the various compounding crises in his personal life, however, Donovan might be out of his depth. Abby, who has seemingly forgotten their working-class Southie roots, is pressuring him to move the family to Beverly Hills and get the kids into ultra-exclusive private schools; meanwhile, brother Terry -- a former boxer who's struggling with Parkinson's disease as a result of too many blows to the head -- delivers an emotional haymaker when he informs Ray that the old man, whom they assumed had five more years to serve, has just been paroled and could be headed for L.A.
By the time the first episode is complete, it's clear that the Donovan family -- despite Ray's best efforts -- is about to be reunited.
And in so doing, Ray Donovan's writers set up the most compelling, conflicted, venomous and hate-fuelled parent/child relationship since Tony (James Gandolfini) sparred with passive-aggressive mom Livia (Nancy Marchand) in the first two seasons of The Sopranos.
Schreiber is tremendous -- in a taciturn, tightly wound fashion -- in the title role, but it's Voight, as the clan's pure-evil patriarch, who elevates Ray Donovan and makes it a series that should not and cannot be missed.
Dense, dark, menacing and magnificent, Ray Donovan is a show that deserves to draw a big crowd, and might soon provide a whole lot of people with a very easy answer when they're asked the inevitable post-Labour Day question: "So, what did you do this summer?"
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