Ray Donovan is the title character of a television series now in its third season on Showtime. It is dark, violent, disturbing and unsettling. Yet, my friends and I can’t stop watching. Why? Because in addition to being well written and directed, it also gives us something we need.
According to the network’s summary: “Ray Donovan is a ‘fixer’ for Hollywood’s elite. He’s the go-to guy that the city’s celebrities, athletes and business moguls call to make their problems disappear. It’s a much more lucrative job than his previous work as a ruthless South Boston thug, vaulting him within reach of the truly wealthy and powerful.”
Those who know me well will tell you I despise gratuitous violence, guns, adultery and deceit. So, I was surprised by my initial fascination with this show – until I realized it wasn’t just about Ray Donovan. It’s about all of us.
Played perfectly by Liev Schreiber, Ray is a middle-aged Irish Catholic who was raised in a traditional home with two brothers and a sister. They all attended Catholic schools and all three brothers served as altar boys. If you haven’t seen the first season yet, you should stop reading now, because I hate to spoil the surprise. But all four of these children were sexually abused by a priest associated with their church and all of them are devastated by the experience.
Growing up Catholic, I also attended a parochial grammar school and dutifully obeyed all of the usual demands such an upbringing requires; including weekly mass and Friday afternoon confessions to young priests who were probably unprepared to deal with the real life problems of frightened children or anxious adults.
I remember hearing the whispers concerning priests (both young and old) taking advantage of altar boys and young female students who looked to them for guidance. And I remember the devout families who had these same priests for dinner every Sunday night; families who believed the spiritual father who shared their table was a friend and not a threat.
Fast forward a few decades and we now know all of those whispers were true; that it was not just a priest or two who crossed to the dark side and abused innocent children, leaving them broken and unhealed. They numbered in the hundreds and their victims number in the thousands; so many that the organizations founded to help them recover doubt we’ll ever find or reach half of them.
Worse yet, the vast majority of these offenders will never be tried or punished. That’s where Ray Donovan comes in – and why I say it’s really about all of us.
One of the key storylines of the first season is the unexpected appearance of a priest Ray’s brother believes is the one who abused them and the resulting debate on what they should do about it. Their arguments are compelling and the outcome is stunning, because it spotlights our universal need for justice.
For any society to work the good need to know the evil will be punished and that right will ultimately triumph of wrong. That still hasn’t happened in the Catholic Church and, until it does, we all remain unhealed.
That’s why I love Ray Donovan (both the show and the man). The writers create smart, captivating plotlines pulled directly from headline news; stories that don’t have magical, perfect endings. Then they create a character willing to operate outside the boundaries most of us face inside that real world to deliver justice by whatever means necessary.
Editor’s Note By coincidence, the film Spotlight opens tomorrow in theaters nationwide. Based on the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of abuse in the Catholic Church, it features a stellar cast – including Liev Schreiber.