Ray Donovan: Season 1, Episode 1 – “The Bag or the Bat”

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I just finished the pilot episode for Showtime’s new series Ray Donovan created by Ann Biderman (who created Southland and won an Emmy for NYPD Blue). It’s a quality episode directed by cable mainstay Allen Coulter written by Biderman. I’ve read very little critical response, but the show set a Showtime ratings record for a new series premiere (topping Homeland). That’s even more notable considering this episode was available to stream online a week before it actually aired.

In brief, Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) is a “fixer” (think Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolf) in Hollywood who helps the rich and famous with certain problems, including stalkers, transvestite prostitutes, dead hookers, cheating mistresses and whatever else his clients might need. Ray has relocated to the west coast from South Boston and lives with his wife Abby (Deadwood‘s Paula Malcolmson) and the cable-requisite older daughter and younger son (see also: Mad Men, Homeland, Dexter, The Sopranos, The Americans). Ray is good at his job and makes a pretty nice living, but he has other family problems involving his brothers Terry and Bunchy (Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok) and most importantly his dad Mickey (the hammy Jon Voight).

I liked Ray Donovan and I’m interested to see exactly where they go with it. The cast is pretty great all around and the story, apart from the return of Mickey (who has been in prison) seems sort of unfocused and could zip off in any number of interesting or weird directions, or it could just sputter and stagnate. That’s the reason for this post, the fact that this pilot is so jam-packed with character traits, flaws and reveals as well as supporting cast members and potential plot threads. I get that the first episode of a show needs to introduce us to this world and these characters, but my goodness, is there a lot of stuff here! Rather than give an in depth recap, I’m just going to list everything good, bad, cliché or otherwise that “The Bag or the Bat” throws at us and marvel at how coherent and interesting it remains.

SPOILERS ABOUND! Continue reading