The well of television anti-heroes keeps pumping out stoic, tortured and (mostly) male souls, forced to get their hands dirty in order to do their jobs and protect their families. The latest offering, Showtime's "Ray Donovan," brings a Boston crime family to the glitzy Hollywood landscape: think "Entourage" meets "Sopranos" with a Southie accent.
"There was something about these two very different cities being brought together in this one story that was appealing," says creator and executive producer Ann Biderman. Her show follows Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber), a tough Bostonian transplanted to Los Angeles where he works as a celebrity "fixer" (a la Olivia Pope of "Scandal," but with beatdowns instead of press conferences).
If dealing with the problems of the rich and famous isn't enough, Ray also must take care of his own erratic family: his capricious wife (Paula Malcomson) and their two adolescent children (Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby); his troubled brothers (Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok), who run a sketchy boxing gym; and his mobster father, Mickey (Jon Voight), who tracks down Ray after being released from a 20-year jail sentence. And Ray himself is no saint, not afraid to lie, cheat and bash a head with a baseball bat in order to get the job done.
"There's that whole class conflict, the whole class contrast, between L.A. and its enormous wealth, and Boston and wealth that is ill-gained," says Biderman, whose last show "Southland," a cop drama, also took place in Los Angeles.
The Donovan clan brings plenty of skeletons to L.A. One of Ray's brother suffers from Parkinson's Disease, while the other is reeling from being sexually abused by a priest when he was child, a crime that haunts the entire family. Biderman says the opportunity to write about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal was one of the reasons she chose to include Boston roots in her California-set drama.
"It's the biggest criminal cover-up that goes to the top," she says. "So how could you not be intrigued with it? To look at that, examine that, see the repercussions of that was important to me." The show's molestation storyline drives its characters to depression, alcoholism and much, much worse.
But from Ray's eyes we also see the ridiculous world of Hollywood, from the vain antics of his celebrity clients to his wife's yoga obsession. "You get all this, 'Come to the West and create yourself' with all the new age crap and thinking. We poke fun of that in the show," says Biderman, who grew up in Florida, New York and Massachusetts before moving out to Los Angeles for film school.
"I get a kick out of it, but it's also where I've made my home and my living for years, so I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me." says Biderman. "I am trying to do it with tenderness and affection and humor. The extremes are just so extreme. I think it's ripe for humor."
But for every inch of Hollywood mockery, "Ray Donovan" goes a mile into dark, dense family crime drama.
"The whole transformative idea of movies and stardom [in L.A.] is contrasted with this south Boston story which is, there's no escaping that. You are who you are," says Biderman.
"Ray Donovan" premieres Sunday, June 30 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
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