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Rays Week

Turns Out ‘Ray Donovan’ Isn’t A Cop Show

Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan

Our television was a giant piece of furniture. It was old, a 1970s model with big knobs on the front to change the channel. I might be confusing it with a different TV we had, but I remember that there were different knobs for VHF and UHF. We did not have cable. It was the 1980s. And many days I plopped in front of that TV for hours.

It did not stunt my growth, as far as I know. The shows I watched as a little kid did help draw me into a lifetime fandom of sports and pro wrestling, but I'm not sure that qualifies as stunting anything. I watched a lot of cartoons. I never had a Teddy Ruxpin doll, but I loved the weird, magical television show built around that toy—especially the minor comic villains, Tweeg and L.B. I watched a lot of Muppet Babies. I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Garfield and Friends and Saved by the Bell and whatever else was on. I do not think I believed all these shows were “good.” I know I made fun of Saved by the Bell a lot, but I still wanted to see if Zack and Kelly would get together in the end. I still hate Jeff. You don't have to like or even really care about TV for it to make its way into your brain like this.

I’m an only child. I had a great childhood. I get along with my parents well. You know those tweets about how being a gifted kid screwed the tweeter up? I was a snot-nosed gifted kid and it was fine. Very few complaints overall. We watched TV together, about as happily as we did everything else.

I really do miss watching television with my parents. I can still remember, vividly, dancing around the house with my mom after the Eagles’ unlikely comeback in 1995 against the Cowboys (“The Groundhog Day game”). My mom tells me she still remembers watching Muppet Babies with me. I have vivid memories of my parents showing me this cartoon short on a sketch comedy show they liked, which starred Tracey Ullman. Some kids I know weren’t allowed to watch The Simpsons. My parents and I got together to watch the series premiere.

We do not watch much TV together any more. Usually we text during NFL and NBA games, and sometimes also about track and field. (Mostly track. Only a little field.) My mom and I both watched The Dropout earlier this year, which was one of my favorite shows in a long while. It was great to have a show I could talk to my mom about. I wanted to do that more, but our tastes don't always line up.

My parents watch standard older-people fare. They do now have cable, but I understand they mostly gravitate toward network shows like the Chicago shows by Dick Wolf, Blue Bloods (someone once told my dad he looked like Tom Selleck, as McQuade men are constantly compared to handsome celebrities) and maybe a few more cop shows. (My mom does not like the new Law & Order. I watched two episodes and thought they were OK.) They also liked a detective show called Bosch, if I remember correctly. But there was a show they enjoyed for years, that I’d never seen: Ray Donovan. For Rays Week, I went up to my parents house, brought them lunch from the greatest pizza place in the world (Merc Bros), and watched the pilot of Ray Donovan with them. It was like old times, only with the Muppet Babies swapped out for a conflicted and violence-prone family of Boston tough guys.

For years I thought Ray Donovan was a cop show, probably because 1) my parents watched it, and 2) a healthy plurality of shows on television are cop shows. The zip code I grew up in, 19154, is basically cop land. Many of my childhood classmates’ parents were cops. Many of my old classmates are now cops. When you live in cop land, you end up watching cop shows. Sometimes they are quite good! Following a detective as he tries to solve a crime can be really enjoyable. It’s why my dad and I both liked the new Batman movie, which was basically a Law & Order episode where the cops were Batman and Commissioner Gordon.

Anyway, I can report here that Ray Donovan is not a cop! He is a “fixer,” played by a very squinty Liev Schreiber. He is from Boston but works in Los Angeles. He “fixes” things for his celebrity clients. The plot in the pilot is unreal: One of his clients wakes up in a bed with a dead woman. Another one is about to be outed. His solution is to sneak the first client out of the building with the deceased, and then sneak in the other client. A dead woman really is less of a crisis than a live man, I guess.

But there’s more! He punishes a celebrity stalker by dying him green. His father, played by Jon Voight, is released from prison and comes to Los Angeles to complicate things. Apparently Ray was the one who set him up to be sent there? Also, Ray Donovan and his brothers have all been molested by priests, and Voight kills a priest upon release from prison. A lot happens, even for a pilot.

So, yeah. The show touches on a lot of things I really enjoy: Rich (or rich-ish) Los Angeles culture, celebrity, boxing, being really Irish. I also found it pretty funny, albeit in a gross way. And Ray Donovan, despite being a madman, has several “save the cat” moments where you end up rooting for him despite the fact he cheats on his wife in the very first episode. I want to watch more!

The lesson here, I guess, is that you should listen to your parents, at least about TV. Just because they watch the Dick Wolf show about how cool the Chicago Police Department is doesn't mean they won't sometimes get it right.

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