Ray Donovan S1E2: A Mouth is a Mouth

kyra: Just take a moment to admire that title. Not many shows claiming to have the gravity that Ray Donovan wants to have would use a title like that. Then again, most shows don’t have Jon Voight start a conversation with his grandson by asking him if he’s a fag. Mickey Donovan plays off as terribly comic to me so far, and I don’t think that’s the message we’re supposed to get. I think we’re supposed to think he’s a really bad guy capable of doing scary things–he leaves a picture of himself in that actor’s mansion and it scares the guy shitless. We’re now two episodes in and I’m not really sure why I should fear Mickey Donovan, who’s just an old guy who loves to party. So many things are still not understood: How does he have so much cash? Why are all the brothers except Ray still loyal to him? As soon as he gets back into their lives he’s up to no good and yet they still defend him. I don’t get it.

The other big problem I had this week was that so many storylines seem already planned out and I know what they are. The gay action star texting Ray’s son is obviously headed for a showdown. We know the Disney Channel star is going to end up banging Ray after the twatty guy says “he’s good looking isn’t he” to her (as a side note, is Liev Schreiber that good looking?). Lee and Ezra will continue to be Jewish caricatures. Ray will find it in his heart to have sympathy for someone he hardly knows. Etc. Buckeye, what say you?

Buckeye: To build off your last point, everybody, not just the obviously Jewish characters, in this show is a caricature or, worse, a cliche. Ray Donovan? Anti-hero struggling to reconcile his bad deeds with keeping his family together, with his family being the one thing he can’t fix! Get it? Mickey Donovan? The scary father-mobster type who strives to be the epitome of manliness. Nothing was less surprising in “A Mouth Is a Mouth” (another of Mickey’s MANLY lines of dialogue) than Mickey spitting out his grandson’s organic juice cleanse that Mickey definitely thinks is CRAP. The brothers? I’ve seen about fifty boxers from the Boston area in movies or TV shows within the last six years (but hey, the nurse likes his guns), and no working class family would be complete without a jittery drug addict. Ray Donovan’s wife? A poor man’s Carmela Soprano. I’ve read a couple negative pieces on Ray Donovan suggesting that the show doesn’t work because we’re tired, after Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Don Draper, of the show-centered anti-hero. (I wouldn’t call Walt an anti-hero but we’ll table Breaking Bad discussions until closer to August 11.) I’d posit something different: We’re not tired of the anti-hero (I mean, I am that excited for Breaking Bad‘s final episodes), but rather Ray Donovan, if we analyze it and the man at its center similarly to other prestige dramas and their leading men, Ray Donovan just isn’t as good of a show, at least so far. (It certainly falls short in its cynicism, because its cliches prevent any worthwhile cynical insight.) It’s not anti-heroes that are problematic, it’s poorly drawn ones. And the poor characterization extends to the supporting cast as well; Ray Donovan seems, initially, more fleshed-out than everybody else in his life.

My suggestion, then, is to take Mickey Donovan and the rest of the cast of misfits and scumbags for what kyra said they are: “terribly comic.” If we start approaching Ray Donovan more as a guilty pleasure and less as Breaking Bad‘s successor, my guess is that’s the only way, or at least our best chance, to enjoy the show.

Case in point, the dialogue, which is ridiculous. Whether the show recognizes it is ridiculous and doesn’t care, or thinks it’s whip-smart without realizing how it sounds to our ears, I can’t say; that this episode was titled “A Mouth Is a Mouth,” a line that came during Mickey’s preposterously goofy monologue on sexual orientation to his grandson (who it’s revealed, but probably unbeknownst to Mickey, secretly communicates with the actor with a thing for transexuals), could be used to support either proposition. The dialogue can sometimes not only stand on its own as absurd but can affect the acting or the sense that anything in the show can be plausible. Kyra, I know you had some thoughts on (and issues with) Ray Donovan’s visit to Tommy in rehab, and the phone call Tommy made to the transvestite hooker? I did, too, but let’s start with you.

kyra: OK let me set the scene. You are Tom Cruise, a fairly consistent box office success and action star who’s been dogged with gay rumors for years (which are true). A male hooker has videotaped you sucking his dick and is now blackmailing you for $1 million days before Mission Impossible 5 is released. I think you’d be 1) incredibly scared of this video getting out, and 2) really fucking pissed at this guy, who you’ve hired numerous times before, betraying you.

Now explain to me how when Ray tells you to call up ‘Chloe’ you begin the conversation with a bit of playful banter asking what ‘she’ is wearing, rather than angrily asking what they want? For the life of me, I don’t understand how Tommy Wheeler approaches this phone call in the mindset he does, and I don’t think any explanation can convince me this wasn’t terrible writing. How is that possibly a logical emotion for Wheeler to begin with on the phone in that situation?

Additionally, despite the premise that a ‘fixer’ keeps things quiet, Ray shows the video to like 100 people! Lee, Ezra, that woman who does stuff for him who kinda sounds like Catherine Keener, the guy who’s walking past her office and sees it, the asshole with the broken hand, the Disney pop star! For a guy who’s supposedly ‘the best’ at what he does, this is ridiculous.

Buckeye: There’s another cliche that I forgot to mention above: the secretly gay movie star. And they named him Tom! Simply incredible.

Kyra addressed beautifully the implausibility of the whole scene. Granted, Ray Donovan on the whole is pretty goddamn implausible, but neither Schreiber nor the actor who plays Tommy really bothered to sell the scene. When Tommy went to make the phone call, I could have sworn, given the quickness with which he dialed the prostitute’s number and his meek and hushed repeating of the lines Ray fed him, he was pulling the old “I’m gonna fake like I’m calling somebody” card, and I was surprised that Ray didn’t seem bothered by the actor’s lackluster job of conveying that he actually was on the phone with the hooker. (Hence why I laughed when the hooker expected $1,000,000 when Ray met her.)

Great call in noting that Ray made sure to show just about everybody he knows the video in question—the show certainly made sure to show us viewers that video plenty of times to the point where it was gratuitous; we already know he’s into transvestites. I noticed another (if smaller) detail that would seemingly cut against Ray’s smooth fixing operation: If Ray Donovan is supposed to work unnoticed, how the fuck does his kid’s school have his office phone number? It’s the little details like this that keeps me from taking Ray Donovan seriously through two weeks of watching. I’ve got no problem with shows that are unnecessarily excessive in depicting sex, drugs, or violence, but I’m struggling with what the people behind the show want us to think of it. Even if the creators intend Ray Donovan to be comically absurd, the show still needs work when it comes to selling the smaller stuff, and if the dialogue doesn’t pass any logical muster, a lot of that falls on the actors. Any concluding thoughts?

kyra: Only to say that I’m not giving this show many more opportunities. Rectify, a highly praised show, is having a marathon on Sunday and I may wanna pick that up instead. There’s too much good television out there to spend time on mediocrity like Ray Donovan.

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