‘Ray Donovan’: A New-Season Shocker

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan. (Photo: Showtime)

Darkness envelops the season premiere of Ray Donovan, airing Sunday on Showtime. Liev Schreiber’s tough-guy Hollywood “fixer” finds himself engulfed in at least a few situations he cannot fix. The fifth season is very much about family — how Ray’s family survives a number of harrowing challenges to its existence. I am certainly not going to spoil the shocking revelation that occurs in the season opener, even if it leaves me describing, mostly, the secondary plots.

Ray’s father, Mickey (Jon Voight), is trying to make his Get Shorty move — writing a screenplay based on his criminal life, then using his usual strong-arm tactics to get the thing read by an executive. Ray’s brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is now deeply involved in lucha libre, the Mexican style of wrestling his wife introduced him to, with its vivid characters, costumes, and in-the-ring storylines. Brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is on the verge of marrying his cop girlfriend, something that will position him further from his criminal past — he hopes.

C. Thomas Howell was, at first, unrecognizable to me as Ray’s court-appointed therapist, but behind that beard, he does excellent work. Ray’s first client of the season is starlet Natalie James, played by Banshee’s Lili Simmons. Her spats with her husband are both frighteningly violent and wryly funny — the latter for the way Ray deals with this lewd lout. The much-touted guest arc by Susan Sarandon begins in the opening episode, but her appearance is so brief, I couldn’t spoil it for you if I wanted to — her situation is so vaguely described as to be indecipherable. Suffice to say she plays a powerful studio executive who hires Ray to get her out of trouble. Or to avoid getting into some trouble. Apparently. Probably. Maybe.

Showtime made the first three episodes of the new season available to critics, and I have to say, if you’re not already a Ray Donovan fan, this is probably not the season to hop aboard cold. By now, there are so many layers to the profound dysfunction of the Donovan clan that you need a bachelor’s degree in psychology to get a decent grasp of this hotbed of neurotic history and acting out. And I must again say that I miss the hardboiled-thriller elements of Ray’s Hollywood clientele as the prominent part of the show that its creator, Ann Biderman, emphasized. As it is, writer-showrunner David Hollander has certainly crafted — last season and this one — an absorbing melodrama, aided a great deal by directors, including John Dahl, who does terrific work in the second and third episodes. Let’s talk more after you watch the season premiere, when we’re free to gab about the Big Thing That Happens.

Ray Donovan airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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