Where Are ‘Ray Donovan’s’ Complex Black Characters?

by | July 16, 2014 at 3:38 PM | 2007–08 Writers Guild of America Strike, Black Entertainment, Can't Stop Watching, How To Get Away with Murder, Ray Donovan, Scandal

The Donovan Men: Eddie Marsan as Terry Donovan, Jon Voight as Mickey Donovan, Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan, Pooch Hall as Daryll and Dash Mihok as Bunchy Donovan in Ray Donovan. (Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/SHOWTIME)

Sometimes I’ll binge on episodes of my favorite TV shows, particularly before their new season debuts. I did it with “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” “House of Lies,” “Orphan Black,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Grimm.” I didn’t do it with “Ray Donovan” though. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call “Ray Donovan” a favorite show but it is one that I stuck with last year. For those unfamiliar, Liev Schreiber stars in the title role, Ray Donovan, a complicated soul similar to Mad Men’s” Donald Draper, “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White and “The Walking Dead’s” Rick Grimes. He’s a (sometimes) murderous “fixer” who engages in despicable behavior. He loves his family (save his father Mickey, portrayed wonderfully by Jon Voigt) and is dedicated to his clients. Like the other protagonists mentioned, he’s relatable and you root for him despite his shady proclivities. It’s what Starz and the creators of “Power” wish to achieve for its leading man James “Ghost” St. Patrick, portrayed by Omari Hardwick.

“Ray Donovan’s” second season premiered Sunday and I watched it this morning (thank goodness for  XFINITY On Demand™). I won’t delve too much into the episode’s happenings as I’m considerate of those who have yet to see it (this time). It was good, like previous episodes. However, there’s one theme that’s been persistent since the show’s pilot episode and a reason why I wasn’t inclined to re-watch the first season: its weak black male characters. The brothas on this show are childlike, in a sense, and one-dimensional. Where’s the self-certainty, the ability to make sound decisions confidently without coming off cowardly, simple or foolish? Now some may point to Ray’s younger brother Bunchy as the poster boy for characters needing a pair. And he is. But much of his issues stem from the childhood sexual abuse he experienced at the hands of a Catholic priest. So it’s almost excusable. When it comes to the brothas though …  I shake my head.

Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan and Wendell Pierce as Mr. Keith in Ray Donovan's upcoming episode. ( Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME)

Think I’m over-exaggerating? Check this out: Fictional NBA player Deonte Brown’s wife catches him in their bed with an “American Idol” contestant. He scrambles around, unsure what to do because his wife is locked in the bedroom with a gun pointed at the young woman. Meanwhile, their small children are downstairs overhearing this craziness. So, the philandering baller calls Ray for help (Isn’t this the same Deonte who was in a similar mess in the pilot episode?).  Ray’s biracial half-brother Daryll (played by Pooch Hall, who I like), rapper Re-Kon (who seems like a man-child) and musical prodigy Marvin Gaye Washington (whose drug-addicted mother sold her parental rights to Ray) are the other black male characters whom I’d attach this label (a friend, who is a TV addict, would apply that label to all of the black characters on the show). Some also may argue that “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope is a fixer whose mostly white clientele would be helpless without her. True but the show also shows whites in positions of power. Kind of like how Ray and Bunchy, despite them both dealing with past demons, are polar opposites. Unfortunately, “Ray Donovan’s” black characters lack that type of range. And this popular series is not the only show guilty of this infraction. It’s still fresh on my mind from my earlier viewing and Deonte’s scene reminded me of my past feelings. My fingers are crossed that Wendell Pierce’s guest starring as parole officer Mr. Keith next week will offer something different.  

It would be unfortunate if one misinterpreted this post as an inability to enjoy a good (or trashy) TV show or film. I can and do. Hell, I love “Martin” reruns and Lord knows someone could write a dissertation on Martin Lawrence’s portrayals of Mama Payne and Sheneneh. Regarding “Ray Donovan,” my hope is that it extends the same courtesy of interesting, complex characterization to its black portrayals that it liberally offers their white counterparts (HBO’s “The Wire” did this very well). Otherwise, viewers could get bored and select something else from the plentiful Sunday night lineup.  “Ray Donovan” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH “RAY DONOVAN’S” SEASON 2 PREMIERE

P.S. Need a good laugh? Check out my Hump Day Humor selection that’s sure to get you through the rest of your workweek. Hint: It features one of the Wayans! Watch it here.

P.P.S. Can’t mention Olivia Pope without sharing that “Scandal” will return for a fourth season on September 25 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC followed by Shonda Rhimes’ new show, “How to Get Away with Murder,” starring Viola Davis. Watch the season 3 “Scandal” finale here.  

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.