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Tobey’s TV Goodness All-Stars 2013: Ray Donovan’s Liev Schreiber 

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Ray Donovan was one of those shows that kind of snuck up on me. It wasn’t highly promoted in my area (I live in Canada, near ‘Podunk’ and down the highway from ‘You’ve Never Heard of It’) and even when I did flip by it on my channel-surfing, I was slow to give it a chance. This is what I get for not paying enough attention the first time around.

Ray Donovan is a complicated, complex show about a complicated, complex man who is his own worst enemy and who would probably be best served if he could just sever the ties to his dysfunctional, damaged father and brothers, dump his job as fixer for a high-priced/low-morality law firm in L.A. and take his wife and kids to Bali or Belize or buy his own damn island, burn all their passports and never come back.

What makes this show work most of all is star Liev Schreiber, who plays the incredibly damaged, loyal and amoral Ray with deeply layered subtext. You want to hate Ray. You need to hate Ray; he does truly horrible, awful things, to his family, to his wife and therefore in extension to his children, and especially to the people he needs to keep in check for his clients.

But Schreiber is so gifted, he manages to pull off Ray’s damage and somehow make him somewhat sympathetic. Sure, he’ll gut your father if he thinks he has a valid reason, but he has issues, man. Simultaneously, you want to slap him upside the head out of pure outrage and frustration, and take his hand to your heart and tell him he’s a good boy.

Schreiber is, naturally, quite strong at playing strong. I mean, look at him. But his real strength at playing Ray Donovan is his ability to be vulnerable, and to illustrate a man wresting with the demons from his own past while trying to forge a future for his family. The character’s frustration when dealing with brother Bunchy’s (Dash Mihok, Greetings From Home; Silver Linings Playbook) inability to move on from childhood trauma is visually palpable. Schreiber takes what could be heavy-handed melodrama and delicately plays our sympathies and frustrations until we are completely on his character’s side. It’s amazing.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Also amazing: Schreiber holds his own with TV father/dirtbag/murderer Mickey Donovan, played by Jon Voight, who at one point in time practically defined American Cinema (if you can stay dry-eyed while watching The Champ, you are not human. I needed to take five minutes just to type that sentence).

And then right after going toe-to-toe with the acting giant who plays his father, Schreiber beautifully plays scenes with the young actors who portray his children that will just break your heart, because he manages to express the undercurrent of Ray’s yearning to be a good dad (and his fear of failing) so well, while still falling victim to his own instincts of answering every problem with violence.

Anyone less than an All-Star would play this role to cliché and so much of Ray Donovan would be lost. Thanks to Liev Schreiber, we experience all of the character, and therefore the show, both good and bad. It’s definitely worth another look.

Ray Donovan has been renewed for a second season. Both Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight have been nominated for Golden Globe Awards for their work on the show.

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