TV Recaps

‘Ray Donovan’ Pilot Review: What exactly is this show about?

Showtime officially debuted its new series Ray Donovan on Sunday night (the pilot has been available online for a while now). “The Bag or the Bat” introduced us to Ray (Liev Schreiber), a Hollywood fixer (think Olivia Pope focusing on celebrity scandals), as well as his father Mickey (Jon Voigt), who started the episode being released from a Massachusetts’ prison and immediately went out and killed a priest…what?

If you’re shaking your head and wondering if you read that right, you did and you’re not alone in your confusion. The pilot for this show was all over the place and it felt like the writers wanted to cram a bunch of different shows into one and see what stuck. We got to watch Ray solve some Hollywood problems (a guy woke up with a dead girl in his bed, another actor was caught with a transvestite and someone else was worried his mistress was cheating on him).

But that was the first few scenes and unlike Scandal, we didn’t get any background on the people involved. It was basically just Ray and his team showing up to fix the problem and move on. Ray doesn’t say much, aside from giving orders and making a few threats. While there’s nothing wrong with the strong, silent type, that’s not really the kind of character that can carry a show unless the supporting characters are scene stealers. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

We get to meet Ray’s wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) and their two kids. His life obviously allows them a good lifestyle, but Abby is determined to get her kids admitted to private school and wants Ray to use his celebrity connections to do so. In a strange scene, we learn that Ray’s brothers have got some issues, including one of them having been molested by a priest when he was a kid (it bothered me that a serious subject seemed to be played for laughs by having the kids explain what happened so nonchalantly).

So at this point, I’m assuming the priest that Mickey killed in the opening scene was the one who molested his son. After that, he jumps on a plane for Hollywood (hello, so many parole violations) and creepily watches a woman breast-feeding on the plane (I wanted a shower after this scene). Ray isn’t happy when he learns that Mickey is headed his way and warns Abby that he’s a seriously bad dude and Ray doesn’t want him anywhere near his family.

Unfortunately, Abby is not too thrilled with Ray. He violated his boss’ warnings and went to check in with Ashley (Ambyr Childers), the mistress who is also a stalking victim who he’s known since she was a teenager, to make sure that she was okay. Abby attempted to come onto him, but then had an incident with her Epilepsy. Ray (stupidly) told Ashley where Abby does yoga and Ashley quickly went out to make friends with her and showed up at their house. Ray was not amused and neither was Abby when she realized Ray knew Ashley.

Ray drives Ashley home and has to pull off the road when she decides to give him a blow job. He drops her off and warns her to stop stalking him, even as she insists she wants more. Ray gets a call from Abby reminding him that he promised that this wouldn’t happen again and tells him not to come home. I guess that means it’s safe to assume that this isn’t Ray’s first cheating incident. Again, it feels like the show needs to take a deep breath and let some information sink in before it throws something else at us.

Mickey shows up at the gym Ray’s brother owns and makes it clear that he blames Ray for the 20 years he spent in jail and he doesn’t like that Ray is a Hollywood big shot because it was his dream to go to Hollywood (um, okay). Mickey makes a comment about wanting to see his grandkids and Ray attacks him. But Mickey doesn’t take a hint and shows up at the house where Abby is more than happy to let him in (apparently they were prison pen pals). Again, I’m seriously troubled when we see Mickey hugging his granddaughter.

Before the episode ends, Ashley’s stalker shows up again and then Ray heads over to his house and beats him with a baseball bat for not following his orders to stay away from her. Given how unfazed he seems with the bat in hand, I’d say that this is not the first time Ray has attacked someone…

So there you have it; the gist of the Ray Donovan premiere. It’s part Scandal, part Sopranos, part Sleepers, part “insert a bunch of other shows/movies here”. But the biggest problem is that there are no smooth transitions between the storylines and no balance, which made the pilot extremely frustrating to watch. The characters feel like clichés and Childers’ Ashley is the only one who seemed remotely interesting and it’s not clear if we’re going to see here in future episodes since she was only listed as a guest star.

Ray Donovan is trying too hard to be too many things at once. While there’s nothing wrong with subplots, it’s not good when every storyline feels like a subplot without one main plot for everything to branch off from. The show needs a focal point and the supporting characters definitely need to be fleshed out if the audience is ever going to care about them. Admittedly, I’m curious about Ray and Mickey and what led them to this point, but that alone is not going to be enough to keep me tuning in each week.

Did you enjoy the pilot enough to give it another shot or was once enough? Sound off in the comments below and let us know your thoughts!

About the author

Mandy Treccia

Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Executive Editor since 2016, formerly as Editorial Director from 2012-2016. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceMandy.

  • Larry 2008

    Your analysis of Ray Donovan is off. I watched Ep. 2,3,4 last night and they were not only gripping and engrossing, but also very well acted.

  • Billie

    I thought it was really good. Most people must of liked it it had the highest ratings for a Showtime freshman premiere ever..if what I read was true. Altho admittedly coming on after dexter greatly helped those numbers.