Just Because He’s Part of the Lexicon Doesn’t Make It Less of A Mess
When one does an assessment of television in the 2010s, I am drawn to the conclusion that one of the bigger surprises came when Showtime managed to surpass HBO in pure creativity. From its biggest hits Dexter and Homeland to its radically daring comedies such as The Big C and Episodes, Showtime has more than come out of the shadows from HBO.
But the greatest flaws of the network have been its consistent embracing of shows that have a filthy approach not just in characters, but in its approach to entertainment in general. I’m thinking primarily of Don Cheadle’s led series House of Lies and Black Monday, and the overriding disgusting work of Shameless. (I’ve since reassessed my opinion of the latter, but I still feel it’s been on the air far too long.) But in my mind, the series that most represents what can be wrong with Showtime — and in a larger sense, many of aspirants to the Golden Age — is Ray Donovan, a series that almost since its inception in 2013 has been one of most critically attacked series on TV, even as its title character has somehow become part of the lexicon.
There are so many problems with this series that it’s hard to comprehensively list them all, but I’ll focus on what I consider the major ones, and most of them have to do with both Liev Schreiber as the lead, the title character in particular, and the issues surrounding the Donovans in general.
First of all, Schreiber is a great actor. His portrayal of Orson Welles nearly two decades ago in RKO 281 held a great movie together. Given a character with meat on its bones, as he has been able to demonstrate in such astonishing films as The Hurricane, The Manchurian Candidate and Spotlight, he can do great things. And he has a very expressive voice, as his work in two very different animated movies last year Isle of Dogs and Into the Spider-Verse more than demonstrated. So I can’t for the life of me see why he would have signed on for a series where he has to play a character so stone-faced and unemotional that not even the phrase ‘a range from A to B’ applies. Yes, I realize his character is deeply traumatized, but I can count the time he’s expressed genuine emotion in more than six seasons on one hand — and I wouldn’t have to use all the fingers. Maybe that is…