The Ray Donovan Parenting Standard

Recently Kish and I have been binge-watching Ray Donovan, the Showtime series about a guy who fixes problems for the rich and famous in Hollywood — usually through violence, extortion, and sex.  It’s a very entertaining and well-acted show, and we’ve enjoyed getting caught up to the current episodes.

960I usually come away from the show with a curious reaction:  Ray Donovan makes me feel good about my parenting efforts.  This is because the parenting of Ray and his wife Abby, and of Ray’s ex-con father Mickey, is outlandishly bad, launching generations of seriously messed-up, dysfunctional offspring.

Mickey cheated on his dying wife, robbed banks, allowed his kids to be serially abused by a Catholic priest and beat up Ray when Ray tried to tell him about it, and urged his son Terry to keep boxing until the repeated punches caused him to develop Parkinson’s disease.  Everything Mickey touches turns to mud.  Ray hates his Dad — but he and Abby really aren’t a whole lot better in the parenting department.  Ray doesn’t show up at home for days at a time.  Abby decides to go to Boston leaving her teenage daughter in charge.  Both parents have obvious affairs, leaving the kids at home to fend for themselves.  Not surprisingly, the kids are struggling — they’ve had issues with violent behavior at school, underage drinking, the daughter had an affair with her teacher, and the son has a gun fixation.  It’s not a happy, huggy family.

Parents don’t often have insight into how they’re doing; they don’t usually get see how other people perform in the parenting roles.  TV families at least give us measuring sticks by which to gauge our own efforts.  No doubt there were many parents who strove to be like Ward and June Cleaver but found they couldn’t quite measure up.  For a long time, TV showed us the idealized families, but now we’re getting to see the other end of the parenting spectrum.

If you’re worried about your parenting, watch Ray Donovan.  I promise, you’ll feel better.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When you think about it, the Star Wars movies are pretty much all about dysfunctional families.  Luke Skywalker’s relationship with his dear old Dad, Darth Vader, was a frenzied, arm-chopping, each-trying-to-control-the-other mess, and when we learned about Luke and Leia’s back story in the prequel movies, and saw that they were the disturbing product of an incredibly creepy and awkward romance, the broken familial bonds become even more pronounced.  We never learned anything about Han Solo’s family, or Chewbacca’s.  So far as we have seen, there is no happy family headed by Ward and June Cleaver in that galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens continues that heart-warming trend, except that now the circle of family dysfunctionalism has broadened even more.  One of the new characters was apparently abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself; the other was stolen from his family when he was a little tyke and forced to become a soulless storm trooper.  And let’s just say that Han and Leia’s family, and relationship, aren’t exactly what you’d see featured on the cover of Reader’s Digest.  What’s worse, Luke’s latest failure to establish a warm and loving relationship with a close relative has sent him off the reservation and off the grid, making him the subject of a universal manhunt.  And the ultimate sign of some serious family issues comes when a kid would rather hang out with a colossal 3D image of an ugly guy with a grotesquely misshapen head than spend some quality time with old Mom and Dad.

star_wars_episode_vii_the_force_awakens-wideSo let’s say this for the Star Wars franchise — for all of the uplifting music and cute robots and aliens and successful missions to blow up colossal planet-killing weaponry, the films don’t exactly sugarcoat the trials and travails of the standard nuclear family.  If you’re a Dad who’s planning on seeing it, prepare yourself.  You’re probably going to walk out of the theatre after watching it and think, sadly, that being a Dad is a pretty tough job and even heroes aren’t all that great at it.

That said, I liked the movie very much.  I’m not going to drop spoilers on those of you who haven’t seen it, but I will say that I thought the new characters were very likable and the new bad guy is a pleasant surprise because he actually seems somewhat conflicted and human.  Daisy Ridley, as Rey, takes the self-sufficient female character action up about 10 notches above the supremely capable Princess Leia from the original movies, and John Boyega, as ex-storm trooper Finn, is both believable in action sequences and funny to boot.  The special effects are terrific, as usual, the rolling ball robot is very cool, and the new aliens — especially the near-sighted female who runs a raucous watering hole where rebels and fascists alike can hang out and somehow managed to get Luke’s and Darth Vader’s old lightsaber — are great.  And it’s especially wonderful to see Han Solo and Chewbacca back in action, with Han teaching the youngsters how to properly do that rebellion thing and Chewie kicking some serious storm trooper butt.

Sure, there’s a some very familiar — very familiar — plot threads at work in the film, like the evil First Order that seems like Empire Light, a bad guy dressed in black with a black helmet, a desert planet, X-wing fighters and tie fighters zipping around at impossible speeds, another planet-busting gizmo, and a bunch of people looking intently at a video display while an impossible race against time is occurring — but there was enough that was different to keep the movie unpredictable.  And, I particularly liked the ending.  I got the sense that the old storylines had finally been disposed of, the Death Star recycling was finally completed, and now it is time to move on to something really new and different.  I hope I’m right on that.

Go see it!