With the finales of “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” on the horizon, it’s time for cable TV to give us a fresh drama that will have fans drooling over their Twitter accounts.
Meet “Ray Donovan.”
The series, premiering Sunday on Showtime, revolves around a Los Angeles “fixer” who helps his rich and powerful clients wiggle out of jams. But Donovan has problems of his own, most notably a major “daddy issue.”
Turns out Donovan put his drug-dealing pop, Mickey, in prison 20 years ago and the old man is out, eager to either befriend his grandchildren and mend broken fences or fake it well enough to seek his revenge.
Ray is so sure it’s the latter that he’s prepared to permanently wipe Mickey off his Father’s Day card list by putting a gun to his head. Ray’s brothers and wife? Not so sure.
Like all great series, “Ray Donovan” isn’t in a hurry to reveal answers. Ann Biderman, who created “Southland” and won an Emmy for her writing on “NYPD Blue,” has built a game of Jenga out of strained relationships, hot tempers and sordid deals, with few clues as to when and how it will all come crashing down.
Liev Schreiber, who portrays the title character, is the latest Hollywood star to recognize that there’s meatier work to be done on TV than on the big screen. He favors subtlety over screaming, doing as much with a glare as Tony Montana could do with a machine gun.
Schreiber’s too-cool-for-the-room demeanor contrasts nicely with the madness around him. One client, an actor, doesn’t merely have an affair; he has one with a blackmailing transsexual. A nemesis doesn’t just get a beating; he gets pummeled within a millimeter of his life, followed by the stapling of an incriminating picture to his chest. And then there’s Jon Voight, gleefully hamming it up as Mickey. He has so much vibrato he could perform a one-man symphony.
“Donovan” is not a perfect series. It needs to fill out some of the supporting characters, particularly Ray’s two brothers, who each appear to be spinning lesser versions of Fredo Corleone. There’s also some stock dialogue that could be leftovers from 1930s James Cagney flicks.
But the overall tone and the compelling family crisis make Ray Donovan a guy worth getting to know.