Tag Archives: Showtime

Binge Watching Ray Donovan

Seven seasons and a movie.  That does Community one better than its goal.

We started watching Ray Donovan and I swear to you we were not two episodes into the show before I started referring to it as Showtime Sopranos.

Seriously.  While I have absolutely no insight into the development of the show, it felt like somebody at Showtime was jealous of HBO and how popular The Sopranos were and figured they could play mix and match with the formula… we’ll make the family Irish, not Italian, and they’ll be from Boston rather than Jersey, and Ray won’t be in the mafia, he’ll be a fixer for the rich and famous… and come up with a winner.

Of course, by the time they got everything together and going The Sopranos was over and HBO was winning again with Game of Thrones, but whatever.  At least Ray didn’t have to go head to head with Tony.

Anyway, Ray is this big time fixer in LA, where most of his family has ended up, having migrated from Boston to the west coast to be together I guess.  The set is made complete when Ray’s father Mickey gets out of prison, where he had served 20 years for murder, and comes to LA to be with his family… and get in trouble.

The series is best summed up as a series of plans that all go wrong, but Mickey is the king of the disasters.  An old school drug dealer and bank robber, he has an endless series of plans to get rich, usually dragging in one of his sons to help, which inevitable go badly off the rails, often landing his partners in jail and causing no end of headaches for Ray.

But Ray’s services are so much in demand by the rich and the powerful that he somehow manages to make things right, getting people out of prison or out of trouble with gangsters, before the next scheme gets everybody back into trouble again.

The series is seven seasons of plans gone bad, dead bodies being hidden, disappearing Boston accents (except for Abby, who is on always on point), and plot lines left unresolved.  I mean, I swear there is at least one thing every season that, when the next season rolls, I ask aloud, “So what happened to… the Russians or the White Supremacist prison gang or the FBI investigation or whatever” because they clearly want to just “Yadda Yadda Yadda” themselves past a few things.

And then there are seasons six and seven, when the whole family relocates to New York.  All the key players magically end up in the Big Apple.  Not Boston, where they are from, but New York City where, if the show is to be believed, you can find parking right across the street from where ever you are headed.  Apparently Liev Schreiber, who plays Ray, got divorced during season five and his ex-wife (Naomi Watts, who will always be Jet Girl to me, and who I always confuse with Rachel Griffiths for no good reason… Australians I guess…) and kids moved to New York so he wanted to move shooting there so he could be close to his sons.  Maybe dysfunctional families do move across country together.

Still, there is a train wreck like fascination that grows on you as you watch the show because literally every plan, every aspiration, even the most simple of intentions, manages to fall through into some sort of disaster.  I stopped with references to The Sopranos and started calling the show Mickey Wrecks it All.  Also, there is an easy drinking game built into the show.  Every time Ray says, “Sure” in that curt, unconvincing way he has, take a drink.  You’ll be plastered before the end of most episodes.

The series was cancelled after the seventh season, which was almost a relief because I am not sure how much more Ray could take without straining even willing suspension of disbelief beyond all possible limits.

However, Showtime relented, and there is now a movie in the works to tie everything together.  I wonder if it will be complete fan service, like the Downton Abby film, allowing Ray to finally have a plan come together, or if it will just be Mickey finally bringing the whole family down with another of his bad ideas.  We’ll see when it comes out.

But Abed from Community would be proud.  His measure for success in television was six seasons and a movie.

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Shows

The pandemic is still here… and it has been getting worse rather than better of late… so we’re still spending a lot of time at home in front of the TV consuming huge servings of streamed shows.  You can look at the Binge Watching tag to see this and other posts on the topic.

We started watching this because it had a bit of the same vibe in the ads as Succession, the HBO series that we both enjoyed.

It features the ongoing struggle between the CEO of an investment firm, played by Damien Lewis, and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, played by Paul Giamatti.

Unlike Succession, which was about a rich and powerful family being horrible to each other, and fully deserving it most of the time, Billions tends to be more about the rich (Lewis) and powerful (Giamatti) abusing their power for their own agendas, which is less fun, being closer to the reality where the everyday person just gets crushed if they get in the way.

Also, the show doesn’t really go anywhere.  There are four and a half seasons available on Showtime and when we got to the end of season four I commented to my wife that after 48 episodes everything was pretty much back where it started.  A lot of details changed, but the essential conflict remained practically as it began.

The redeeming grace of the show is the supporting cast, who are often more fun an interesting than either of the two primary characters.

A science fiction series originally aired on Starz, the premise is that in the late 80s in Berlin some scientists broke through a barrier and discovered a parallel, identical Earth.  Or maybe they created it, as everything was exactly the same there.  And everybody has a double on the other side that is an exact copy of them.  But then the two worlds began to diverge.

30 years down the road, the two worlds are very different, with research and technology having progressed differently.  The two worlds maintain embassies with each other and negotiate trades of information, but the relationship is tense.  Both sides distrust the other and spy while trying to keep their own secrets.  The whole thing has been kept under wraps from the general public and is run by a group referred to only as “Management.”

The show only ran for two seasons, which I suspect may have been due to a lack of “stars” to bring in an audience.  I mean, I like J. K. Simmons a lot, but stars maybe don’t do insurance commercials.  Or maybe the slow pace did it in.

But the two season thing turned out to be a bit of a benefit.  I think they knew going into the second season that they would have to wrap it up, so they did.  The first season brings you into the conflict between the two worlds and sets a plot in motion.  The second season resolved the plot, answers a bunch of questions, and tidies things up at the end, making it a 20 part story.  And it is all kind of fun because a lot of the actors get to play two versions of themselves.

Ewan McGregor is back with his childhood pal Charley Boorman for another motorcycle adventure.  It has been a long time since they did Long War Round and Long Way Down, but the two are back again for another adventure, and one I figured they would do eventually.

Sort of.

I figured Alaska to Tierra del Fuego would be a natural.  However, that is another “down” journey, so they decided to start in Tierra del Fuego and go north, thus the title.

The big twist, besides everybody being older, grayer, and less spry, is that they decided to do the ride on electric motorcycles.  They got two prototype electric motorcycles from Harley Davidson for the run.  And, to go with them, were two prototype electric trucks from Rivian. (An old friend works for them, so I’ll have to ask if he got to meet Obi-wan.)

That is kind of an interesting twist, but it also meant that the first three episodes were largely focused on battery life charging time, and whether or not they have the right plug adapter.  The vehicles all run down at some point, but they have a van and a generator truck on call at times.

After that it settles down into the usual routine from the earlier shows, where they alternate between cool local sights and culture and figuring out how they are going to overcome some obstacle or make it in time for a ferry.

Also, they don’t go all the way to Alaska, settling on LA to end the trip, which is where Ewan lives.  Driving up Interstate 5 to Canada and then the ALCAN Highway to Alaska is probably less exotic than they wanted.

Basically, if you like the first two shows, this is a bit more of the same.

I didn’t have any background on this one, but it had John Cusack in it, so we gave it a watch. Starting off it felt very much like a comic book adaptation, with the over the top graphic violence and crazy conspiracy theories… oh, and it revolves around a pair of comic books which a group of “enthusiasts” believe foretold and can foretell disease outbreaks in current times.

But it is actually a remake of a British show of the same name from seven years back.  I suppose the source material doesn’t matter, but it felt like what it felt like.

Anyway, conspiracies are true, diseases are planned, and an evil corporation has an evil plan to remake the world in a way that at least two Bond villains would approve.  The whole disease and vaccine and media influence aspect of it was very on the nose in 2020 I guess, but after a crazy and sometimes shocking start, the whole thing felt a little flat by the end.  It was only eight episodes, but it was no Umbrella Academy.

In the middle of the pandemic and the election and all of the rather tense shows we’ve been watching, it was nice of Netflix to import four seasons of silly sitcom for us.

The show feels straight from 70s/80s mold of family sitcoms.  It features the Kim family and centers around the convenience store they run.  The parents immigrated from Korea, but their two kids have grown up in Toronto and are much more Canadian than Korean in ways the second generation often are as part of the immigrant experience.

Light, airy, and easily digested in 22 minute doses, we ran through all four seasons pretty quickly.  It isn’t Derry Girls hilarious, but it is pretty funny.  You can get wrapped up in whether or not the ethnic humor aspect of it should be a thing, but at its core it is a family sitcom with many of the same setups as sitcoms from bygone days.

Also Mr. Kim, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, got his own sneak attack, appearing in last week’s episode of The Mandalorian.