Juggling Dynamite – the “Ray Donovan” pilot

Watching “Ray Donovan” on Showtime. Wow. What a killer show. You should watch the pilot. It’s realllllly good. You’ll learn a lot.

Spoiler Alert.

What’s amazing about it is how many horrible possibilities for the hero are set up in the pilot. More than you can shake a stick at. More than you can shake a stick of dynamite at.

What the writers have done, and it’s terribly clever, is give the hero a family and a business and friends where each and every one is a potential for life-altering disaster.
It’s incredibly compelling.

I also watched the pilot for “Penny Dreadful” and it was soooo tepid in comparison. Nothing was going on. It kinda had one plot and that plot was dull.
Especially compared to “Ray Donovan.” The episode lasted the same amount of time, but we found out nothing about the heroine. Nothing about her problems were as compelling as Ray’s.
None.
And she had so few of them.
Ray, however, has problems galore. Big ones.

Ray is an old fashioned fixer to the wealthy and corrupt in Hollywood.
Ray has to deal with a bunch of stuff.

This is a tad more than what was in the pilot, but most of this is set up in the pilot. These are the sticks of dynamite Ray has to juggle:

His crazy father, who we really hate and fear. He’s back five years early from the penitentiary. Ray did not expect his showing up. Big monkey wrench in Ray’s life.
His gentle ex-boxer brother, who has Parkinson’s. He’s sweet. But I worry.
His alcoholic loser brother, who was molested by a priest when he was younger. A jittery, dim-bulb time bomb.
His wife, who loves him but loathes his job. Spends a lot of time being angry at our Ray.
His half brother, by his father’s former girlfriend. A surprise that this guy even exists.
In the pilot, Ray does something truly horrible that may come back to haunt him. In the pilot!
Did I mention that his father served 20 years and blames Ray for it?
A movie studio executive who’s screwing an ex client / ex lover of Ray’s. Ray works for him and they hate each other.
An FBI agent who’s after Ray’s father, who informed for him in prison. (Episode 3, I think)
A nutty business partner who is profane and angry.
An incredibly guilty business partner who, with Ray, did something awful in the past, and feels horribly guilty for it. His wife has died and now he wants to confess his sins. Quite worrisome for us and for Ray.
Ray’s lesbian Eye in the Sky who takes care of surveillance back at the office. Very feisty. Sexy and competent.
A VERY tough guy from some Eastern European country. He works for Ray and seems to be 100% loyal. No one else in the whole show is that loyal to Ray. Well, maybe the Eye in the Sky.

Who else? Anybody else? Who else is trouble for our buddy Ray?
Well, there are his kids. A boy and a girl who each show questionable judgement — keeping Ray from being happy.

At the end of the pilot, you’re exhausted with worry.
And alive with interest in finding out how our buddy Ray, with all his problems, is going to negotiate this ghastly minefield… that is mostly of his own creation.

His job keeps Ray going and threatens to destroy him.

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9 Comments

Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Juggling Dynamite – the “Ray Donovan” pilot

  1. Lein

    I’ll definitely check this show out… Since Breaking Bad ended its been mostly The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones for me.

  2. Anna Dora

    Watched the pilot today on your recommendation and I agree with you, the show is very watchable and pretty intelligently made. Liev Schreiber is brilliantly cast in the title role (have to admit I wasn’t even aware of this actor’s existence before), he has this gravitas that does a lot to ground the insane action. Gravelly voice, very imposing physical presence, seriously strange yet photogenic face. I have several issues with the show though, number one being The Wife. You learn pretty quickly that when the wife is in a scene it’s going to be a boring one, bordering on an annoying one. Probably one that’s going to halt the story. The characterisation is so cliched and overfamiliar: the wife is simply one more millstone around the hero’s neck, someone who is always whining about how she and the kids come in second after his important and well paid job. Uncouth, passive-aggressive, immature, clinging (or just unable to have a life on her own), always resentful, overtly or covertly, given to empty threats — the wife doesn’t appear to have one single redeeming feature (the fact that she appears to be on pretty good terms with her two tween kids doesn’t count). I really feel sorry for the actress.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Anna,

      Glad you like the show. It will be interesting to see what they do with the wife. The show’s creator is female. I like the wife, as she’s got a lot to deal with. Have you seen the stuff with her child’s high school hopes? Wife is pretty interesting in those shows. That’s around #4 or #5.

      Next time I watch, I’ll check out the Wife and look at her through your lens.

      cheers,
      Will

    • Absolutely loved this show from Day One. It’s probably the best thing on the network.

      Liev’s finest hour here. This is a perfect vehicle to show off his talents. I’d rather forget his portrayal of Sabretooth in the X-Men universe.

      I agree with Anna though, Abby Donovan doesn’t have an ounce of likability. She’s a complete whiney ungrateful nag. Having watched the entire season, it only gets worse with her manic depressive musings. I can’t tell you how many times I wished a car would come barreling down the road and give us the audience a reprieve. *Spoiler Alert* The daughter, Bridget, had me eye-rolling and screaming profanities just about every episode she got healthy screen time. Both of these characters are the least I cared about.

      My favorite character is Ray’s father, Mickey. I’ve never really given much thought to Jon Voight, but he plays the hell out of this character and I love that just about every time you expect one thing from him, he completely gives you the unexpected. It’s very refreshing.

      I can’t wait to see more of Ray in Season 2.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Skipped to the end when you said Spoiler Alert! Thank you. I have only gotten to c. #4, so I’ve got a lot left and no time to watch. ARRGGGGHHHH.

  3. annatheodora

    On a more forgiving note: in the pilot the wife is consistently whiny and critical and angry with her husband but there are story reasons for that. It’s basically to underpin the very last scene, when she welcomes Mickey into the house even though her husband has expressively told her to stay clear of him. Abby disregards Ray because she thinks doing the Right Thing for her kids. Her husband always keeps her out of the loop, that’s the problem.

    But now I have seen a few more episodes and the portrayal of the marriage has become much more three-dimentional (and I find the wife much more sympathetic because she’s basically railing against her powerlessness).

    The plotlines are entertainingly outrageous. But the show is pretty grounded and perceptive when it comes to psychology, social class and culture/ethnicity and I really like that.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Dying to find the time to get back to this. Been out in the woods for four days working on the sequel to my book, with no Internet (how nice) and am now back in civilization and can watch TV again.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Interesting… the more I do this, the more I think the Bad Guy is the key to everything. And Mickey is a champ bad guy. He drives an enormous amount of story because of his personality.

  4. Josh

    Have you seen true detective? Amazing show.

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