‘Ray Donovan’: L.A.’s Golem

For those of us who grew up in Los Angeles, Ann Biderman’s Ray Donovan is the answer to a core dilemma of life in that dismally decadent city. And the dilemma is this: L.A. is a city that comes fully stocked with people who incessantly and exclusively discuss the people they have met and the things they plan to do, the places they have been and the trips they’re planning to take, yet, very few of the Angelinos seem ever to do anything or know anybody or go anywhere. The essential question, then, is how anything gets done.  How are movies made, freeways paved, shops opened, ships unloaded? Ray Donovan offers the answer to this question: there is a guy running around with a baseball bat, beating the shit out of people to make sure everything keeps running smoothly.

Liev Schrieber’s title thug in Ray Donovan, which just finished its first season on Showtime, is a Boston-bred bruiser distinguished by a menacing swagger and a taut perma-scowl.  As a sort of paramilitary factotum for movie-industry lawyer Ezra Goldman (Elliot Gould), he beats, blackmails, tortures and threatens his way through a Hollywood that both needs and fears him. Ray himself, like so many other Angelinos, is a migrant worker—his specialty is even manual labor of a sort.. But, as it so happens, his skills are found not in agriculture or construction, but in liberal and extravagant use of force.  His gray and dour homeland, along with that of most of the show’s male characters, is South Boston—a sort of mythic wellspring of tough guys that continually disgorges people, problems, and memories onto Ray Donovan‘s plot.
This is a show with a rich, impressively tragic mythology.  At the series’ start, this mythology presents itself mostly as a set of problems for Ray to resolve. His father, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight), has recently been released early after serving twenty years for a murder he didn’t commit—although he’s guilty of many, many others.  Ray doesn’t want Mick around his family for reasons that are initially unclear, although the depth of his hatred is revealed a few episodes down the line when, in front of his wife and children, Ray brandishes a pistol and threatens to shoot his father in the head. As it transpires, Ray and Ezra (and a whiny, indulgent movie star played by Johnathon Schaech) are the reason Mick went to jail in the first place. Ezra, whose periodic lapses into Yiddish index his slow slide into senility, is confused and panicked by Mick’s arrival at his home: disoriented and confused, Ezra sees the Donovan patriarch as a golem—a menacing, inhuman figure out of Jewish folklore.  In a marginally more lucid moment, he tells Ray (and us) that they have done “terrible things” together; we see Ray doing plenty of terrible things at Ezra’s behest, but somehow we get the feeling that these aren’t what Ezra is talking about.
In his nasty work, Ray is assisted by Lena (Katherine Moennig), an energetically impassive lesbian, and Avi, a good-natured badass whose believability is only slightly compromised by actor Steven Bauer’s serviceably crappy Israeli accent. Ray’s family knows, more or less, what he does for a living.  His wife, Abby (Paula Malcolmson) is a Southie girl through-and-through, complete with accent and attitude.  She shares some of her husband’s sharp edges, but tries hard not to think about his job. Their kids—Connor (Devon Bagby) and Bridget (Kerris Dorsey)—are inoffensively ordinary, like white-bread versions of their parents with all the crusts cut off.  Ray leaves most of the child-rearing to his wife, which is probably for the best, considering his parenting style is congruent with his overall savagery: when Bridget’s boyfriend gets rough with her, Ray drags him from his house and sticks a gun in his mouth.
Ray’s brother Terry is a lonely, good-hearted boxing instructor suffering from Parkinson’s after one too many bad hits in the ring.  His other brother, Punchy, is an erratically sober “sexual anorexic”, traumatized and psychologically crippled by the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a parish priest.  We learn that there was, at one point, a Donovan sister—the original Bridget—but that, years prior, she took acid and then a dive off a rooftop.  We know also that Ray’s mother died young, of cancer, while Mick was off with another woman.
Mickey’s appearance in California also catalyzes a whole mess of complications, complete with the appearance of a foppish FBI agent and a psychopathic Whitey Bulger type played well by a worn-looking James Woods.  There is so much bloodshed that one can’t help but imagine that, in reality, the activities of Ray and his associates would be enough to keep most of L.A.’s morgues and emergency rooms permanently staffed.
Ray has only two modes of interaction with other human beings: violence and the threat of violence.  On the rare occasion he is not engaged in some variety of exotic savagery, Ray is like Ezra’s mythic golem: stolid, hulking, blank-faced.  What he threatens, as in the original folk tale, is that he will go horrifyingly berserk, destroying not only his enemies, but also those he exists to protect.
This is why it would be a mistake to view Ray Donovan‘s sanguinary excess as somehow gratuitous.  Violence is central in Ray’s universe, with everything else in orbit around it.  This universe, incidentally, takes the form of Los Angeles—which is a city both obstinately idle and vigorously depraved.  It’s the ideal setting for a character like Ray, whose putative masters, petulant candy-asses like lawyer Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson) and studio exec Stu Feldman (Josh Pais), can only pretend to order him around.  Drexler, Ezra’s partner, sputteringly admonishes Ray midway through the season—“Give me one good reason not to fire you!”—but Ray stares him down.  “I’m not the kind of guy you fire,” he says, and walks out.
To watch Ray Donovan, the show, is to watch Ray Donovan, the character, try to keep the violence in, to keep it subterranean and sublimated even as the world around him goads him into unleashing it.  It’s clear that, for Ray, cruelty is the shortest distance between two points.  The various possible explanations for this impulse are unraveled episode-by-episode: it could be a criminal father, a dead mother or sister, an interfering priest; it could be that Ray’s pugnacity is so hungrily demanded by L.A.’s moneyed deviants that retirement is impossible.  Or it could be that Ray himself is intrinsically, immanently and irredeemably murderous.

‘The L Word’ May Return On Showtime As A Documentary

Fans of The L Word and The Real L Word, rejoice: Showtime is now considering a L Word-style documentary.

The L Word lasted six seaons, from 2004 until 2009, and The Real L Word: Los Angeles, a much-criticized reality TV knockoff, was on the air from 2009 until 2012.  As quoted by the Hollywood Reporter, the Television Critics Association press tour yesterday, Showtime’s president of entertainment said the channel is still invested in "exploring L Word culture — lesbian culture in places not New York, L.A. — where the subculture is not so defined and it’s not so easy. I think we’re likely to make a documentary that will feel like a Real L Word documentary."

Fans of the L Word franchise will probably be excited about this news, but what I’m pondering is how, if at all, a documentary will be different from reality TV — which, as we all know, is scripted and therefore more than a little bit fake. These days, there are "documentaries" and then there are documentaries. Beyoncé claims to be putting out a "documentary" about herself, but it might be more appropriate to call a documentary one does about oneself to be an "hour-long video selfie." Documentaries should show outside editorial judgment, leading you to believe the storyteller is presenting an unbiased narrative. (Cough "Catfish" cough.)  Actual documentaries like Girl Model or  The Queen Of Versailles have some distance between the artist and the subject, which perhaps why so many of them result in lawsuits.  

How much of a "documentary" Showtime’s L Word documentary will actually be remains to be seen. But for all the fans who stood by the franchise in both the scripted and "reality" version, it would be sweet for Showtime to present a truly realistic onscreen representation of lesbians and how they love. 

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Personal Faves: Having A Sex Dream About Nicholas Brody

Instead of ending the year with a slew of Best Of lists, BlackBook asked our contributors to share their thoughts on the most important moments in art, music, film, television, and fashion that took place in 2012. Here, Drew Grant discusses why she loved the year’s most popular cable TV drama, Homeland. [Warning: spoilers ahead!]

I fully expected Homeland to be that kind of show I would never watch, for several reasons:

a) I had never seen a single episode of 24, which was created by the same people who adapted Homeland from the Israeli original, Prisoners of War.

b) I wasn’t a huge fan of Claire Danes, who cried constantly—like during the Emmy’s where she won for playing Temple Grandin—and then would be promoting non-drip mascara during the commercial breaks.

c) No one looked that attractive or fun. There was no saucy Sawyer, no cutely-ghetto Jesse Pinkman, not even one measly sardonic vampire to take the edge off what appeared to be (at least from the commercials), a deeply earnest show.

d) Everyone was telling me to watch it, and I am a passive-aggressive pop culture rebel.

So when asked to review Homeland‘s second season, I had to cram the entire first episodes down my brain-gullet in one weekend. And let’s just say: the first few were really hard for me. Claire Danes was constantly crying, and it made me depressed to see how old Mandy Patinkin had gotten since his Princess Bride years.

And that guy Brody? What a downer. His bland stoicism—presented as a protective front against his now-traitorous heart—just struck me as incredibly boring. I imagined Brody pre-war, pre-Abu Nazir, and he just looked like Joe Shmoe. Hell, without the scars, he looked like Joe Shmoe now. He was skinny-ish. He had a weak chin and a wet little mouth that squinched up like a butthole whenever he was supposed to express emotion. The first couple times he tried to have sex with his wife Jessica after being a POW for eight years, it was like watching a really uncomfortable scene from a Todd Solondz movie. Did he just masturbate on her? Gross.

But then came that episode.

You know which one: the cabin episode. The one where Carrie Mathison, the only CIA agent who still suspects that Brody is a terrorist, uses her bipolar brain logic to seduce him (i.e. she lets him fuck her in his car). Then they take a road trip to her family’s summer home—with a nice little detour to brawl with some white supremacists at a bar—and spend the rest of the episode having awesome sex, walking in the woods, and pointing guns at each other.

"Hmm, this show has promise," I thought.

The next night, I dreamt of Brody. I dreamt that we were hiding out in the tree house at the house of my best friend from elementary school (though it looked a lot like my ex-boyfriend’s bedroom, but whatever! Dreams are weird). My friend’s parents were below, and they were trying to make me feel guilty for cheating on my boyfriend with a potential terrorist.

"Oh, so you’d prefer me cheating on my boyfriend with a doctor or shoe salesman?" I shouted down at them. "Not that I am conceding that I am harboring a sexy fugitive up here, mind you, but just hypothetically!"

The my friend’s parents considered it. "Maybe if he was a doctor," they admitted. Brody had to get dressed quickly, and we were giggling as I hid him under my bed. Then, as the parents were ascending the rungs of the tree house ladder, I woke up.

The rest of the day I walked around feeling both guilty and thrilled with my little secret. I understand that it’s completely boring to hear about other people’s dreams, and technically Brody and I did not even have sex (though there was the assumption that we had, and I was just getting to my own storyline late, like someone who forgot to DVR the first half of an episode.)

But you have to understand: I never have sex dreams. Sure, when I was little I used to have this thing with Freddy Krueger appearing and offering his hand-claw in marriage, and sometimes we’d kiss—Freddy Krueger, being able to control dreams, often made himself look like Brad Pitt for me, which was weird because I didn’t think Brad Pitt was that cute when I was eight—but we never got to second base.

When I was thirteen I had a highly disturbing nightmare about having sex with a cartoon Mr. Smithers from The Simpsons. I’m not even sure if that counted, but it was pretty freaky. And from then on…no sex dreams.

Not even sexy dreams, which I always found odd because I spent so much of my day thinking about scenarios where I am engaged in flirty battles of wits with like, um, Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park. You’d think some of that would seep into my subconscious, but no, it was Nick Brody: the least talkative man on television. He’s like everyone’s dad right before the divorce. With Carrie though, he transformed before our eyes into someone much more complex than just a Muslim marine/Congressman intent on killing the vice president.

Look at his nuanced sneer in Season Two, when Carrie finally confronts him in his hotel room. Or the way he likes being manipulated by her crazy ass. Or how he was willing to kill the vice president for her. (Though technically, he was planning to get around to that sooner or later. Still, it was much more romantic in a hostage situation). Unlike today’s modern anti-heroes like Don Draper, Walter White, Dexter, and yes, even Rick Grimes, Nick Brody has revealed that behind blue eyes there lies only love. He’s replacing DiCaprio as the tragic Romeo to Danes’s perpetual Juliet.

The second time I dreamt about Nick Brody, we had sex. SCORE! It was like losing my R.E.M. virginity!

So thank you, Nick Brody, for giving that to me. Also by extension, a big thanks to you, Damian Lewis, for playing him, though I can’t watch you in interviews because I find your British accent and light-hearted sense of humor very disconcerting.

Follow Drew Grant on Twitter

Showtime Debuts ‘Masters Of Sex’ Trailer

It’s true, 2013 will bring us a reality show about drunk 19-year-olds riding ATVs in the mud. But click over to Showtime and there’s a new drama about sexuality researchers, Masters Of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan.

Sheen plays Dr. William Masters, an OB-GYN teaching at a Midwestern college, and Caplan is his research assisant, Virginia Johnson. The series will be based on the nonfiction book Masters Of Sex, by Thomas Maier, and explains how these two became the foremost sexuality experts in a time before Dr. Ruth, Loveline, and Dan Savage. In addition to researching the sex lives of others, Masters and Johnson became romantically entangled with each other.

Showtime hasn’t yet announced when Masters Of Sex will begin its 12-episode run. The network will also debut Ray Donovan, a drama starring Liev Shrieber about a "fixer" in Los Angeles (which is also seen in the trailer below).

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Stephen King’s ‘Under The Dome’ To Become A TV Show

Remember the good old days of American TV when melodramatic grocery store novels were turned into super long miniseries? Roots! North and South! Alex Haley’s Queen (or: More Roots!) More North and South! Miniseries used to be great excuses for networks to pack their broadcasts with actors who were probably too big to show up on, like, Murphy Brown but were definitely too unkown to be in big-budget Hollywood movies. There was also a lot of sex involved on screen. That’s always fun! Nowadays, books are still being adapted for television, but now they’re becoming actual series with multiple seasons. Naturally, the king of the TV miniseries is back: Stephen King’s 2009 novel Under the Dome has been picked up by CBS to be a 13-episode series.

The novel, a whopping 1000-page tale of the residents of a small New England town (of course) suddenly finding themsevles trapped under a large transparent dome, will air this summer. But, of course, the book is getting the Game of Thrones / Walking Dead / True Blood / Sex and the City treatment, as the folks involved in the production of the show are not limiting themselves to a year’s worth of TV. According to Entertainment Weekly, the show will be an "event" that its producers hope will turn into a full-fledged series: 

The series version was originally developed at Showtime. But in an unusual move, the ambitious project jumped from a cable network’s slate to the major broadcaster (more on that below). It’s also a rather unique title for CBS, since the network has been traditionally more wary about betting on serialized dramas than its rivals. But with AMC’s The Walking Dead and NBC’s Revolution, apocalyptic serialized dramas have been delivering large numbers lately.

Fans of the novel shouldn’t expect an exact retelling of the same story. Last we heard, writer Brian K. Vaughan’s (Lost) script for Dome was wisely using the novel’s setup as a launch pad for its own TV-format-friendly version of the story and might even lay the groundwork for a different outcome than the novel’s ending. Also, the CBS version is definitely a series, not a mini-series, with a finale episode that will leave the story open for more seasons.

Ah, well. Gone are the days when taking a giant brick of a book like The Stand and turning it into a four-part, eight-hour movie for TV. Who says our attention spans have dwindled? Certainly not the people in charge of making television shows.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Joan Rivers Promotes Showtime Comedy Special By Blasting Showtime as “Drunk,” “Bipolar”

Joan Rivers knows exactly what she’s doing with this "PR" thing.

Don’t Start With Me, Rivers’ comedy special on Showtime, aired on Thursday night and is now running repeats. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, then I’m not alone: she’s now blasting Showtime on The Huffington Post for ordering her to stop promoting the special.

"I think it’s the best I have ever recorded," she told HuffPost. "Showtime were great, said do whatever you want. Pick any city you want, I picked Chicago. I adore Chicago. I haven’t played for four years. The feedback was great and then I noticed it was airing and I had done nothing to promote it." Rivers began booking promotional TV interviews herself. 

But then Showtime, inexplicably, told her to cut it out, Rivers claims. 

"Showtime sent me a cease and desist letter telling me they didn’t want me to promote it,” Rivers said. “The first time in 60 years that a network said shut the f*** up. I’m talking to you wearing mask! I think they are all crazy. They don’t know what the f*** to do. … They are all drunk over at Showtime. I think they are all bipolar. I don’t care, but the sad thing is they are blowing every opportunity."

Aw, come on, Joan. After 50+ years in the business, you should know that PR people are, as a rule, terrible at PR.

What gives, Showtime? Stop putting all your eggs in the Homeland basket and show Joan Rivers some respect.

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Stop Telling Me To Watch ‘Homeland’

No, I didn’t watch the Emmys, either. Go figure.

Look, man: there can only be one show at a time that people harass each other about watching, and right now that’s Breaking Bad. Sure, by now most people are watching Breaking Bad as it airs, but show a little respect—its tenure as That Show You Gotta Watch is almost at an end, so wait your turn, Homeland early adopters.

You don’t make the rules, got it? I watched the Battlestar Galactica remake in fuckin’ 2011. That’s how I roll. I may not ever get around to Homeland at all, though I’m happy to slot it above Game of Thrones in my don’t-even-bother stack. I still haven’t started season two of Deadwood. Plus I might even read a book sometime.

What makes you think I need help with my TV agenda, by the way? It’s basically the one thing every American is qualified to set for themselves: even people in mental wards know that Wheel of Fortune comes on at 7:30. Feel free to tell me about some indie band or cult-hit movie that I’ve never heard of, but don’t come shilling a premium cable series advertised on the side of every third city bus. Unless the nudity is really top-notch. 

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

We Need To Talk About Claire Danes’s Emmy Dress

Look, I’m not going to pretend that I’m the biggest Claire Danes fan because, in fact, I am not really a Claire Danes fan. I don’t know what it is, exactly; perhaps I’m still bitter over the whole Mary Louise Parker / Billy Crudup mess from a few years ago (and I’m definitely not a Billy Crudup fan). Maybe it’s her attitude that gets me. Last night, when I saw her win her second Emmy—this time for Homeland—I had this general sense that she thinks she is deserving of accolades. She marched right up to that stage and was all, "Whew, I thought I’d be waiting around all night for THIS, my AWARD for BEING SO GREAT." But none of that is important because wtf was she wearing last night???

I know she’s knocked up and all, but why in the world would someone want to wear that giant dress to an awards show? Was she trying to hide her baby bump? Because guess what? Nothing brings more attention to your body that an ill-fitting fluorescent bag. It was so distracting that during the Emmy fawning over Homeland I completely missed Mandy Patinkin. Where the hell was Mandy Patinkin? Did Claire Danes hit him over the head sometime between the red carpet and that unfortunately unfunny opening sketch featuring a bunch of women punching Jimmy Kimmel in the face (FOR NO REASON?) and then stuff him into that yellow-green Glad bag she had draped over herself?

I regretfully admit that her hair looked great. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

‘Dexter’ Teaser: Can You Really Be In Love With Your Brother?

Dexter‘s season six ended with Deb Morgan realizing she is in love with her adopted brother Dexter, who also just happens to be a serial killer. A new teaser for the show’s September 30 season seven premiere promises Dexter will be just as incestuous and bloody as where it left off. 



The teaser promises Dexter is finally at peace, somehow, with his killings by his solemn declaration "I can accept that. But can she?" The show still has two seasons to draw it out: Paste Magazine notes Dexter is in a contract with Showtime through an eighth season — which means a lot more killings and confusing romantic feelings about family members. Time to work on a doubly strong stomach, folks.