Some TV series are made to be experienced on DVD, with shiny box sets coupled with the promise of insightful extras and commentaries that you just can’t get via streaming or other means. It’s even more of a shame, then, when DVDs are released without this in mind, with barely-there special features that do nothing to support the fading notion that a physical set is worth the extra cash. Ray Donovan’s first season is one such release, detracting from the series it contains by not offering anything more for fans or newcomers to enjoy alongside the 13 episodes.
But it’s those episodes that really matter, of course, and Showtime’s latest stab at The Sopranos-esque family crime thriller is one that will certainly please a certain demographic. Starring Liev Schreiber, the obvious selling point for the show after standing out in numerous film roles, Ray Donovan sold itself as a crime-gangster drama from the start, and it’s only when watching the first season that you realise it has its sights set just as much on being a family drama. As families go, the Donovans are about as gloriously dysfunctional as it gets, made up of an impressive cast including Jon Voight and Eddie Marsan among others.
Ray is the stand-up guy in the family, working as a problem solver for Hollywood’s elite but covering up a fair few skeletons of his own. This might sound a little bit like Scandal, and parts of it are, but its presence on cable and original placement after Dexter mean that there’s a nasty edge to it that sets the show apart. It’s the latest in a long line of those shows about flawed, ageing antiheroes you want to root for despite the bad things they get up to and, unfortunately, Ray Donovan came a little late in the day to really get noticed. There’s nothing particularly new or groundbreaking here, even if everything it does it does pretty adequately.
Throughout the first season there are two sides to the show, just as there are two sides to its protagonist’s life. The first is a procedural element involving various clients that Ray has to deal with, and the second is an ongoing familial drama with his wife and kids, his brothers and estranged father. The stuff that takes us away from the case-of-the-week stories is certainly stronger, and should be what a second season focuses on a little more. It’s also here that the show takes us to some of those darker and more interesting places. Familiar series like this need something to set them apart, and the dynamic between the family certainly does this.
It’s Marsan and Dash Mihok’s performances as Terry and Bunchy Donovan that you’ll probably remember, and their characters threaten to overshadow the father-son dynamic that the show clearly wants us to care about. As a study of a family damaged by abuse and a heavily repressed, traumatic past, Ray Donovan works very well but, given that this is only one part of a much larger, more crowded whole, the strengths here don’t mean it’s a great show. There’s always far too much going on, with the focus on Ray saving his marriage never quite coming together. A slightly anticlimactic finale also makes you wonder where the show will go next.
As mentioned, extras on these discs are more than a bit thin on the ground, with nothing running over two minutes and nothing that gives any sort of insight into the show. There are features repurposed from Tumblr such as The Way Ray Runs A Meeting and The Way Ray Breaks (strangely comedic and lacking in introduction), and then little video diaries from cast members such as Jon Voight (which is good if you’ve ever been interested in what music he likes to listen to on the radio). It’s disappointing as, with a cast and crew as strong as this, the lack of effort feels like a colossal wasted opportunity.
Ray Donovan is a recommended watch for anyone with a penchant for its genre of wounded protagonists balancing a secret identity with family life, but anyone on the fence should be directed to other, better shows with the same concept. Ray Donavon feels like a show still trying to figure itself out, though the performances from its stellar cast are almost enough on their own to recommend it.
Ray Donovan Season 1 is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.
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