There are two ways that ‘Ray Donovan’ could have gone, both of which would have been interesting.
It could have been an action/comedy about a fixer who solves celebrities’ problems, only on occasion veering into heavier family-centered territory. Maybe it would’ve been lightweight, but it would’ve been a lot of fun. Or it would have been a TV version of “The Departed,” a hard-boiled crime show laced with Boston accents and simmering with tension.
The ‘Ray Donovan’ currently airing on Showtime splits the difference between these options – or more accurately, it attempts to do both – and fails miserably.
“Twerk” is a hot mess the likes of which I’m not sure we’ve seen anywhere on TV this summer. The wild tonal shifts that marred the otherwise-interesting first two episodes of the series are taken to another level here, and exacerbate the storytelling problems of a series that is trying to simultaneously be, among other things, funny, irreverant, heartbreaking, and poignant.
This episode achieved exactly none of those goals, instead coming off as uncomfortable, cartoonish, and pandering. It’s the worst of all worlds. I make it a point to watch episodes straight through all the way through to minimize distractions, but I had to take a lengthy break halfway through “Twerk” because it was so uncomfortable.
There’s just so much silliness, and not in a good way. Ray’s wife is mad at him, so she donates his laundry to the church. During yoga, she has a change of heart, and un-donates them, but leaves the church a couple thousand dollars instead. At the start of the hour, Ray’s told that Beyonce said something positive about him, and promptly deadpans “Beyonce talks too much.” Every scene with Ray, Avi, and Ezra feels like a Saturday Night Live sketch about lawyers. And in the scene that gave the episode its title, Mickey (Voight) goes to the library to look up twerking, dancing in his chair and those around him eye him disdainfully.
It’s not that I have a problem with comedy being injected into drama – ‘Mad Men’ is the funniest show on television when it wants to be – it’s that this particular brand of broad, slapstick comedy is so ill-suited for the rushed and overemphasized family drama it’s juxtaposed with.
The world of ‘Ray Donovan’ is filled with silly cartoon characters that speak to each other with deadly seriousness in dark hallways. It’s nonsense. I don’t buy any of it, not even for one second.
I can imagine someone getting on board with this. There were a fair number of moments in “Twerk” that, if I was really on board with the story, would have been rather interesting. Well-acted moments with lively dialogue, like Mickey talking to the FBI agent in the library, or Ray and his wife at the party. But for me, the show’s intentionally wacky world completely undercuts what would otherwise be good scenes and, probably, interesting storytelling. There certainly is a good show lurking here, but it’s hopelessly buried under layers of goofy character and a flagrantly rushed central narrative that spent approximately zero time ramping up and is now in full flight.
Since Showtime released the first trailer months and months ago, ‘Ray Donovan’ has topped my list of most anticipated new series. Now, after just three episodes, I’m about ready to pull the cord on this disappointing, disjointed comedy…drama? I don’t know. I also don’t know how a premium cable series could waste a cast this good, and I don’t know how anyone could think that mixing wacky characters with a serious setting (the opposite of the ‘Game of Thrones’ model, which by the way works REALLY well) would work.
What I do know is that I feel no particular desire to ever watch another episode of ‘Ray Donovan’.