Ray Donovan: THE WEST COAST SOPRANOS
By John K Bucher Sr. (@bucherjk)
An inside look at Tony Soprano and Ray Donovan
First let me explain why I think I’m qualified to comment on the great Tony Soprano and television’s new crime boss — Ray Donovan. Since The Sopranos first premiered and changed TV as we know it in the late 90’s, I’ve made a study of every episode. The language and dialogue filtered into my own way of speaking. To this day when someone calls me on the phone, I mimic the show, exclaiming “Oh! There he (or she) is!” Simply put — The Sopranos changed my life. I KNOW this show.
While Tony and the boys were still filming in New Jersey, I found my way to the sets and peeked into the window at Satriale’s. I ‘ve sat in Tony’s seat at the Bada Bing and watched cars go by out the glass doors. In more recent years, I’ve made friends with Chris Caldevino, who played Billy Leotardo (Phil’s brother who gets whacked by Steve Buscemi’s Tony B). I know Chris got tired of hearing me repeat his lines from the show over and again. He’s has spent the last few years back at Buscemi’s side on Boardwalk Empire, but I still hound him for the most trivial details about his time on The Sopranos. For me, it’s become about having a deeper understanding of the show and what made it tick.
Of course, The Sopranos ended in 2007 with Tony hovering over a plate of Onion rings on a cold Jersey night. I still watch re-runs of the show, but there are no new stories – no new conflicts between Tony and New York – no new friends from Jersey on Sunday nights. Tony will never give me new phrases to greet friends down at the bar. Fortunately, I ‘ve discovered someone new. Someone who, over time, could become my next Tony Soprano. His name is Ray Donovan.
This summer I got to work on the Showtime original series and spent 17 hours with the cast and crew. Working as a background actor on the show, I began to get a glimpse of what gave the show its amazing chemistry. After binge watching all episodes aired to date, I caught the fever. I began to be intrigued by the similarities between Tony Soprano and Ray Donovan. Take a look…
Tony and Ray
Both men are the powerful and feared heads of family crime businesses. While Tony’s is a traditional mafia-modeled business where the underlings “kick up” a percentage of their earnings, Ray Donovan is the sole earner and takes care of his close and extended family and associates. Tony toils away in gambling houses, strip clubs, extortion plots, protection rackets, robberies, and the occasional murder for hire. But he also runs legit operations — the pork store and the garbage routes. Ray is a fixer for the rich and famous of Los Angeles. He solves complicated dilemmas for those who find themselves drowning in too much money and power. Ray’s boxing club is his own version of Satriales where plans are made and meetings are held with his “family.” Both men are sexually promiscuous and struggle to balance work and family.
Tony’s biggest fear was the FBI. He was extremely cautious talking on the phone or even in person. He only felt safe in his basement. Ray, on the other hand, is not afraid of the Feds. We’ve seen him boldly march right into the Director of the Los Angeles FBI office to confront a man for not leaving his family alone after an agent was killed. And why should Ray be afraid? He has an agent on his payroll.
Both Tony and Ray have wives that live in mansions, enjoying full lives of luxury. Both wives, Carmela and Abby, are united in that they remain paranoid that one day it will all end and their husbands will cease to come home. They are aware there are other women in their husband’s lives but are at a loss as to how to deal with that. Both women try to ignore the business that puts jewels on their fingers and console themselves with romantic affairs of their own. Abby does seem more lonely than Carmela, a woman with an endless supply of friends. And while Carmela hated Uncle Junior, Abby seems fond of Mickey Donovan, Ray’s father.
While Tony’s father, Johnny, has long left the picture, Ray has a living father, who’s a royal pain in the ass (played by Jon Voight), as well as a father figure and boss, Ezra Goodman (played by Elliott Gould). I cannot imagine Tony having a boss. While he respected Carmine and the other New York bosses, he never liked them or feared them. Ray also has a secretary, who operates much like Tony’s henchmen, Christopher, Paulie, and Silvio — carrying out Tony’s orders. Both Tony and Ray have a son and a daughter. Both daughters date African-American men, much to their fathers’ dismay. Tony’s son, AJ, is not suited to life in the family business, while Ray’s son, Connor, seems prone to violence, like his father.
The West Coast Soprano
I still love an occasional episode of The Sopranos, where I know exactly what will happen and can mouth along with the dialogue. But Tony’s time has passed. I need a man for this generation. I need a man for this coast. So, for now, give me a new episode of The West Coast Sopranos — Ray Donovan — and give it to me now!
John Bucher Sr. is the father of John Bucher. He blogs regularly and can be found on Twitter at @bucherjk