Following last week’s “Black Cadillac,” the best of ‘Ray Donovan’ to date by a healthy margin, I went into this week’s episode with some sense of anticipation. Maybe the show is finally figuring itself out, you know? Maybe it just took a few episodes of thrashing about, but now the creative team has settled on this series being a Hollywood-centered family dramedy that happens to involve crime. Maybe the show would stop attempting to pass off its rushed, overwrought crime story as something that deeply matters. Maybe it would stop trying to do all these things and a thousand more at once. Maybe ‘Ray Donovan’ would become a good show.
Nope. I can definitively state, the answer to everything above is no.
“The Golem” is arguably not even the worst episode of ‘Ray Donovan’ to date, but it is certainly the most disappointing. Five episodes in, and it’s now clear that the goofily frenetic pace, the constant pinballing between stories (without taking the time to really tell any of them), the ludicrous supporting characters, and the laughable attempts at creating SERIOUS TELEVISION aren’t merely growing pains, they’re in this for the long haul. “Black Cadillac” was the outlier. “The Golem” is the show.
What all does “the show” entail? Well, a whole lot of microwaved drama, laced with the pretentiousness of a series that thinks it’s far better than it is. Just watching the impossibly long “Previously on…” that preceded this episode gives you an idea of what ‘Ray Donovan’ thinks of itself. As clips from the dozen or so stories that the series is trying to simultaneously tell splashed across the scene, I felt this wave of stupidity crash into me. Too many stories, too many wacky characters, too much of an effort to make the proceedings weighty and meaningful. Nice of Showtime to sum up everything that’s wrong with the series right up front. The network’s doing my job for me!
And when “Golem” started, all of those feelings were reinforced. This is not the kind of show that can open with a beautiful shot of nighttime Hollywood set to wonderful old-timey music and just be happy with it, so of course it results in Ezra getting in a car crash, which leads to a CT scan scene, which leads to him freaking out, which leads to him hallucinating while he talks to Mickey, which leads to Ezra revealing to Ray that he has a brain tumor…
…which leads to Ray drinking in the bar, which leads to Ray having sloppy, drunken sex with handcuff-wielding trainwreck Ashley, which leads to guilty Ray returning to his apartment to have a good drunk cry, which leads to Abby walking in and asking a question that would be much more profound if it been set up with more care and hadn’t been asked in pop culture a thousand times already, “Who ARE you?”, which leads to…
Just fucking stop, Ray Donovan. Go home. Your show is as drunk as you are.
This is a series with great actors, a big budget, and an immensely appealing “Hollywood fixer” setup. With all those things going for it before the first episode was even filmed, ‘Ray Donovan’ has had to actively work at being as bad as it is. It’s borderline inconceivable that all those things were put into a blender and THIS is what came out. But here we are.
And again, it’s not that one single thing is particularly bad. Every story, on its own merits, is more or less watchable, and often even interesting. I like the Ray-Avi-Lena work dynamic when the show actually deigns to focus on it for more than a fleeting moment or two, and I can tolerate the whole Marvin/Bridget budding relationship, even if some of that makes me cringe (watch out, white kids! Your black neighbor is here, and he DRINKS and SMOKES DRUGS!).
But ‘Ray Donovan’ is doomed by the sheer volume of material it’s trying to pack into each hour. I wish the sequence I outlined above starting with Ezra’s car crash was some kind of special case, but no, that’s how just about everything on this show works. The stories flow into each other in such an obvious and direct way that the series is like a big ‘connect the dots’ puzzle, only all the dots converge into a straight line every hour, and that straight line ends with me rolling my eyes at this stupid show.
The two stories that for now, mercifully, don’t fall into this are those of Ray’s brothers, Bunchy and Terry. I could watch an entire hour of Bunchy riding his new tricked out bike around the cul-de-sac, looking like the definition of cool with his oversized sunglasses and pirate flags. Likewise, the material involving Terry doing some detective work of his own and discovering that his new romantic interest Nurse Francis already has a family of her own was genuinely affecting.
While they’re unquestionably my favorite part of ‘Ray Donovan’, Bunchy and Terry’s stories also serve to underscore how hurried and overcooked the rest of the storytelling is. There is absolutely, unquestionably a good show buried somewhere inside ‘Ray Donovan’, and it’s a shame that we’re not seeing it.