Ray Donovan returns to UK screens for a fifth season of scandal fixing, gossip killing and corpse hiding in July 2016. But despite its star cast (including Liev Schreiber and Oscar winner Jon Voight), darkly comic premise and brooding lead man, Showtime’s series doesn’t seem to have the same buzz around it in the UK as the year’s other big TV hitters.
Here are seven reasons to start catching up:
1. It stars Liev Schreiber
Liev Schreiber may once have been known for his role as suspected killer Cotton Weary in the Scream trilogy, but his varied career since has proven him one of America’s most underrated performers. His raft of on-stage experience with Shakespeare is testament to his charismatic presence, something that has seen him not only revel in villainous roles in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Manchurian Candidate, but also take on roles such as Vilma in Taking Woodstock and Laertes opposite Ethan Hawkes’ Hamlet. As Donovan, a “fixer” in Los Angeles, who covers up bad things for wealthy clients, Liev is at home in the skin of his smooth-talking, stoic anti-hero, but his poker face carries hints of the feelings he conceals from his customers. Thought Cotton Weary was hard to read? Try Ray on for size.
2. It also stars Eddie Marsan
Eddie Marsan is one of those British actors who has appeared in everything – often without people realising. But he’s also one of the best of them, from his intense turn in Happy-Go-Lucky to his gentle nice guy in Filth. After getting a spot in the limelight in the BBC’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, there’s never been a better time to check out his supporting role as Terry Donovan, Ray’s older brother, who has Parkinson’s disease – a condition that is expertly underplayed by our Eddie.
3. It’s about an anti-hero
Nobody likes a good guy. They’re boring. Just ask Superman. Schreiber’s fixer for a law firm, then, is a complex guy to root for, as he balances his struggling marriage with his seedy career – something not helped by the unexpected arrival of his father (Jon Voight) in Season 1.
“When I read the character, I thought it was an interesting take on contemporary masculinity. When you have that many good actors and that many good writers, it takes on a life of its own,” Liev told the Boston Herald. After the first scene I knew I was in trouble – collectively we had something compelling, and I was going to have to figure out how to live in LA
4. It’s set in LA
Photo: Michael Desmond / SHOWTIME
Did we mention it’s set in Los Angeles? Too often in TV, that doesn’t mean anything: House of Cards is shot in Baltimore instead of Washington, D.C. Graceland, meanwhile, uses Florida to stand in for LA. Donovan, though, shoots on location in the Californian sun, which adds a believable weight to the show’s satirical streak – there might be family drama on the table, but the real meat lies in the skewering of the sleazy, selfish world of showbiz. “I don’t want her to know I’m following her,” says one client in the very first episode, hiring Donovan to stalk his wife. “She has trust issues.” Donovan keeps a straight face.
5. The guest stars
A show set in Los Angeles isn’t a show set in Los Angeles without a wave of celebrity cameos and guest roles. Ray Donovan doesn’t buck the trend, with additional members of the ensemble ranging from Elliott Gould as his mentor and Hank Azaria to Ian McShane as a movie producer. (In the third season, Katie Holmes also joins the cast as the producer’s daughter.)
6. It’s by Showtime
HBO may get all the plaudits in the modern TV age, but having Showtime’s stamp on Ray Donovan is a reliable indicator of quality: the broadcaster has not only given the world Homeland and The Affair, but also Masters of Sex and Penny Dreadful – the latter being one of 2014’s best new series. And, of course, there’s the small matter of that Twin peaks revival, also available on Sky Atlantic.
7. It’s already on Season 5
From the cancellation of Sense8 to Hannibal, living in the golden age of TV means that, often, there are too many series for them all to survive. Ray Donovan, though, has got to a fifth season, which means that there’s a pay-off for new viewers debating whether to invest their time in catching up. Now, Seasons 1 to 4 are available as a box set on Sky On Demand for binge-viewing – or, for non-customers, on NOW TV, a VOD service that costs £7.99 a month, including live and on-demand streaming of the latest season. That premieres on 16th August, with new episodes arriving weekly.
Photo: Suzanne Tenner / SHOWTIME