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Schreiber Chats, Bats in ‘Donovan’; Stephen King: Review

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June 20 (Bloomberg) -- Just out of prison and looking for revenge, an aging Boston mobster (and grandpa with iffy parenting skills) murders a predatory priest.

Told later that he killed the wrong cleric, the old man shrugs it off.

“So what?” he says, in a thick South Boston accent. He didn’t molest my boy, he molested somebody else’s.

Actually, Mickey Donovan, the demonic old thug played by Jon Voight on Showtime’s tough family drama “Ray Donovan” doesn’t say “molest,” but I’ll show a restraint neither Voight nor the show typically does.

“Ray Donovan” features Liev Schreiber (in a long-overdue starring role) as Mickey’s son, the title character: A Los Angeles fixer who makes scandals, stalkers and other Hollywood inconveniences disappear.

When bargaining doesn’t work -- when, say, a bag of money won’t keep that stalker away from a singing superstar who happens to be Ray’s ex-fling -- the black-suited paladin wields a wicked baseball bat.

“Ray Donovan” surrounds its anti-hero with a sprawling, brawling Irish-Catholic family, including brothers Terry (Eddie Marsan), an ex-boxer with Parkinson’s -- he’d have been called punch drunk in the old days -- and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), the long-ago molested altar boy who battles his traumas with booze and cocaine.

Inner Conflicts

Raising two teenagers (Devon Bagby and Kerris Dorsey) in suburban Los Angeles with his striving, old-neighborhood wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), Ray is the head and heart of his clan, doing his best to put more than miles between the Donovans’ violent, hardscrabble urban past and their arriviste (if barely less violent) lives in the burbs.

Remind you of anyone?

Comparisons to “The Sopranos” are inevitable (Malcomson’s thick-talking Carmela clone is particularly unfortunate), but there’s a touch of another iconic TV brood here as well.

The Donovans are cable drama’s answer to those Beverly hillbilly Clampetts, with chowdah accents and bloody knuckles, ready to knock snooty Hollywood down a peg or two.

Creator Ann Biderman’s fish-out-of-water conceit, either intent on stirring the cultural stew or beholden to a few too many focus-group sessions, gives Ray a neurotic Jewish mentor (Elliott Gould), two business partners -- a punky lesbian (Katherine Moennig) and an Israeli (Steven Bauer) -- and a biracial half-brother (Pooch Hall).

Lofty Ambitions

I’m still not sure if “Ray Donovan” has lofty ambitions of presenting L.A. as multicultural flashpoint, or just wants to keep the city’s dialect coaches busy.

In the first episode, Ray is summoned to fix two problems: a closeted action-movie star is busted for soliciting a male hooker, while an endorsement-heavy athlete has a dead groupie in his bed.

Ray’s two birds, one stone solution is as implausible as it is morally dubious, though only the latter is intentional.

Raising “Ray Donovan” from more standard cable-TV fare are its two central performances.

Schreiber and Voight play from different ends of the tough-guy spectrum. The stoic, unsmiling Ray busts heads reluctantly (and might even steer some Hollywood money to a woebegone hustler in need of a sex-change operation).

Voight, on the other hand, is all crazy violence and pent-up libido. His idea of grandfatherly advice is too crude to print here, but it involves bluntly stated safer-sex lessons he probably learned in prison.

Nasty, yes, but the grandkid and “Ray Donovan” are lucky to have him.

“Ray Donovan” airs Sunday, June 30 on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

Stephen King

Global-warming metaphors aside, CBS’s Stephen King summer series “Under the Dome” is a defiantly old-fashioned reminder of days (nights, rather) when King tales like “Salem’s Lot” and “It” were as creepy as TV got.

“Dome,” judging from the effects-heavy first episode, isn’t nearly as spellbinding as “Salem’s Lot,” and there’s nothing here as disturbing as Pennywise, the demented “It” clown, but King’s pulpy sci-fi storytelling still has its appeal.

Adapted from the author’s 2009 novel, “Dome” features a “Twilight Zone”-worthy premise: Like a sudden rainstorm, an invisible dome-shaped force field descends on the small town of Chester’s Mill.

No one gets in, no one gets out, leaving the residents -- a dastardly politician (Dean Norris), a handsome stranger (Mike Vogel), etc. -- to their own “Lord of the Flies” devices.

King miniseries are notorious for lousy endings (“It” was a spider?), but by lightweight summer standards, “Dome” merits a second peek.

“Under the Dome” airs Monday, June 24 on CBS at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Rich Jaroslovsky on tech.

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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