Big hitters: Paul McCarthy and Amanda Bishop. Photo: ABC TVFrom its opening frames, it is clear there is something very, very different about Ray Donovan (Showcase, Tuesday, 8.30pm). The writing is meticulous, but so is the writing on so many shows. As viewers, eating freely from a buffet that includes Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Dexter, brilliant writing is almost passe. It shouldn’t be, but in the midst of such an embarrassment of riches, it’s easy to be … meh.
Liev Schreiber – it’s pronounced Lee-ev, in case you were wondering – is Ray Donovan, a ”fixer” for the rich and famous in Los Angeles. And for a moment it looks like Ray Donovan – the show, not the man – might be another one of those almost intriguing but ultimately shallow wrapped-up-in-itself LA stories. Entourage, anyone?
But then we meet Ray Donovan – the man, not the show – and things start to get interesting. This is one deeply, deeply flawed guy. So flawed he makes Don Draper look like St Peter. His siblings, Terry (Eddie Marsan) and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), seem so impossibly damaged, each in their own way, that they wrap elder brother Ray in ever more intriguing layers of complexity.
And then, onto that, writer Ann Biderman drops Jon Voight as Mickey, Ray’s dad, whose return to the family has all the cold discomfort of a Mafia don’s final kiss. This is a family who will be forever altered by the sins of the father, and the resulting rage of the son.
In that sense, we might be looking at the first show to properly inherit the mantle of The Sopranos, the crime drama that is perhaps HBO’s greatest contribution to the genre, Sex and the City and crimes against fashion notwithstanding. Ray Donovan isn’t a pure crime show, however, and The Sopranos has left mighty big concrete shoes to fill.
Seemingly worlds away – change of continent, change of accent, change of genre, change of tone – is the ABC’s new foray into political satire, Wednesday Night Fever (ABC1, Wednesday, 9.30pm). Sketch comedy is the bastard child of sitcom, so this sits less easily on the national mantle.
The first episode was given a hasty rewrite at the 11th hour because of the tectonic shift in the political landscape, so much of the action was driven by Paul McCarthy as Kevin Rudd and Amanda Bishop as Julia Gillard. Both deliver accomplished studies of their targets.
Some of the impersonations were a little less entire, notably Kim Kardashian and Ruby Rose, but both are ripe targets for satire. Taking potshots at Shane Warne is lazier, and depends on a mostly outdated suite of characteristics. The parody of Clive Palmer seemed like much more fun.
”Downton Abbott” might have been the debut episode’s finest moment, or even the sight of Dave Eastgate pushed into leather pants and a decidedly
heavy-metal motif, had it all not been followed by a Julia Gillard rendition of I Dreamed a Dream, the anthem from the musical Les Miserables, performed by Bishop. ”But the factions come at night,” she warbled, ”with the Murdoch press behind them.”
Sketch is a perfidious genre. It is often criticised for only getting it half right, an assessment that often ignores the fact that even the very best sketch comedies only get it half right. French & Saunders and The Fast Show were on the money only half the time.
Ditto Fast Forward and The Naked Vicar Show, Australia’s top shelf of older sketch shows. What is clear, though, is that Australia’s political establishment has turned itself into a national joke. And anyone brave enough to kick it deserves a round of applause.
Ruth Ritchie is on leave.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.