On the surface, and in pretty much all ways, Ray Donovan and Suits are two shows that have absolutely nothing in common. Except in my mind. I find that both suffer from devices – places and things – that distract the viewer. Every single thing seems plotted in an artificial way – or at least it feels artificial.
In Ray Donovan, particularly in season one and to some extent in season two (maybe understandable as the writers and characters find their footing), I felt like the entire show was a series of mobile phone calls between the wide character list. Sure, some action took place, but the phone calls were constant – either setting the action into motion, stopping some action before it happened or adding information that would have been unavailable (in reality or as a storytelling device) in the grand old pre-mobile-phone era. I wondered while watching what they would have done with a story like this minus the phones. Could Ray Donovan even have done his job without mobiles? (And in some cases, would his job – the way he does it – even be needed?) What did films and TV shows do before cell phones saved the day or could act as a device to up the suspense (i.e., girl goes home with murderer; her sleuth-like friend figures it out and tries to call her, but the phone is downstairs, and she’s already upstairs tied to the bed about to be slaughtered; camera pans to phone ringing away on the kitchen counter)?
The show might have been better titled “Cell” or something (a double meaning: endless mobile phone use coupled with jail time and/or threat of jail) because every scene involved some phone call that was sending Ray rushing off to another crisis or phoning one of his… can we call them henchmen? and sending them off to do his bidding or keeping someone out of a jail cell. This has not changed that much – it is still prominent, but it has lessened to the degree that I don’t find that it has washed away my enjoyment of the show. (After all, in this season, I got to see Ray sing Bob Seger karaoke with a former nemesis. This did not involve a phone.)
I have grown to appreciate Ray Donovan, even when story lines languish and things that feel promising (last season’s arc with Ian McShane – under- and misused) don’t go anywhere satisfying, there is still enough here to bring me back, season after season. In fact, it keeps improving.
What is not improving and has stretched its premise thin is USA Network’s Suits. Yeah, I am still watching, yeah, it still draws me (and apparently a lot of others, as it has been renewed for season 7) and yeah, we do see more places than the well-trodden hallway between Harvey Specter and Louis Litt’s offices, but not much. We get glimpses of New York, of the principal characters’ apartments, a few shots of courtrooms, and this season a glance inside prison. But for the most part, this show is all Specter, Litt or Jessica Pearson (and occasionally Donna, Rachel and Mike) charging down this main hallway between each other’s offices to give the other crucial news, a verbal lashing or some-other-who-knows-what. But this back and forth is starting to feel tired (along with the sap and nonsense of the Mike and Rachel story, which is really starting to, as someone jokingly said to me, miscombining two phrases, “burn my goat”.
What to do about over-reliance on the same things?