If you know me at all, you know that this Ray loves HBO. Turns out the reverse is true.
If you take a quick glance at all the original programming to be featured on HBO since it started in the 70s, it’s a helluva body of work. I think my first HBO TV love was Def Comedy Jam…or maybe The Kids In The Hall. Next it was their spin on the 30 minute sitcom (Arliss, Sex In The City) and eventually the sprawling long form dramas they are famous for (Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood being the holy trinity for me)
And to that last point, as we prepare to gather ’round our TV sets (and other devices) to say adios, presumably, to its latest long form master True Detective–and specifically to Colin Ferrell as cop Ray Velcoro–I take pause to acknowledge HBO’s ongoing love affair with interesting characters named Ray in particular…from male escorts to comic book superheroes and all points between.
Here, then, are my Top Five “Rays” Of Awesomeness in the HBO canon (with honorable mentions to follow because, yeah, there are that many):
5. Ray Stokes (Ricky Gervais) Extras: Really more of a character-inside-a-character (in the show within the show “When The Whistle Blows”) this Ray earns his place in history mainly via the one-liner, “Is he havin’ a laugh?” The plot arc of former extra Andy Millman is basically him making his peace with the love-hate relationship he has with the character he plays on Brit TV. Bonus points for the final episode appearance of the “Ray Doll,” (technically a character based on a character-inside-a character) which employed mindless mall merchandising to hammer home the point (and which, also, sounds suspiciously like RayDog).
4. Ray Hueston (Zach Galiafinakis) Bored To Death: Truthfully, I was never a huge fan of the show, which ran three seasons on HBO from 2009-2011. But, c’mon, it’s Zach Freaking Galiafanakis we’re talking about. Bored benefitted mightily from its Season One synergy with Zach’s mushroom-clouding career after The Hangover blew up that summer. This-here Ray is a comic book author and Sancho Panza to Jason Schwartzman’s lead, Jonathon. Bonus points here, as well, for Super Ray, himself a character-inside-a-character, the alter ego and title character of the aforementioned comic book, wherein his superpowers include his freakishly large, crime fighting “Little Ray.”
3. Ray Drekker (Thomas Janes) Hung: Flip the script here on Bored To Death…I love love loved everything about Hung, seemingly more than most of my friends and certainly more than the critics and the ratings would indicate. Seriously tho, what’s not to love about a high school gym teacher who moonlights as a modern day Fred Garvin. I would’ve loved to see this romp between the sheets go another season or two. But like so many of HBO’s great near misses, they live a respectable truncated life to make way for the True Bloods and such to find their larger audiences. Speaking of largeness, Drekker also possesses a freakishly large “Not-So-Little Ray,” although it possessed no crime fighting superpowers.
2. Ray Velcoro (Colin Ferrell) True Detective. Here again I keep on zigging while others zag. Everyone I know is bagging on Season Two. It’s too confusing. It doesn’t live up the dynamic Woody and Mac from Season One. Me? I think the foursome of characters at the center of the sprawling Vinci whodunnit were way more watchable than the former. And at the center of that must-watch proposition was Ferrell’s mustachioed crooked cop we met in the opener, and his journey since. I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up tonight.
1. Ray Ploshansky (Alex Karpovsky) Girls: I’ll admit to some homer bias on this one, as I admired so much of the pre-Girls work of the on-again, off-again Austinite, most notably Woodpecker, which first put him on our radar at South-By-Southwest in 2008. (The New York Observer wrote a great article about his non-Girls work when the Lincoln Center did a whole thing for him in 2013). But to put this Ray at #1 on the list in such good company, it needs to be about the character of the character. And to that point, it’s easy. I think. He’s got more gravitas than the Rays of Gervais and Galiafanakis, and at least more life span Ferrell’s or Janes.’ And when the inevitable inanity of the girls of Girls, individually and/or collectively, has me ready to pull out my own fingernails, there’s grumpy ass Ray at the Cafe’ Grumpy, throwing his Larry David best on the Girls’ hot mess.
Ray Cole (Robert F Colesberry) The Wire. I wanted to put Colesberry’s Cole on the Top Five list. That’s mainly from my sheer love of that program, and that fact that Colesberry was one of the creators of the show (who died in the middle of its run). He was central to the Season Two investigation of the Jane Does. And when they wrote his death into the storyline, the episode containing his wake gave us further insight into cop culture, and primed the pump for McNulty’s own similar exit.
Ray-Ray (Michael K WIlliams) The Sopranos. The episode “Army Of One” was not considered to be among the best, although it wrapped up Season Three giving us closure about AJ’s dance with military school, Junior’s dance with cancer, and where Jackie Jr. ended up after his botched card game heist, which we know was in the gheetto with a hoodrat named Ray-Ray, portrayed by Omar from The Wire, Michael K Williams.
Ray “Buffalo Ray” Curto (George Loros) The Sopranos: Sort of a background character, but his funeral is hilarious.
And last but not least, Ray-gar Targaryen from Game Of Thrones. Ok, it’s actually Rhaegar, so maybe I am reaching at this point and should just quit while I’m ahead…y’know, if I am actually ahead.
Alright, then. Did I miss any?