The noise-making guest stars essentially cancel each other out in the new season of “Ray Donovan,” with Ian McShane adding viperine class as a wealthy mogul out to commandeer the title character’s services, and Katie Holmes at best proving an irritant as said mogul’s daughter. The departure of showrunner Ann Biderman hasn’t yielded significant changes, as the story continues to dig its way out of the dark corners into which it traveled in its sophomore year. Yet while this Showtime series still has its strengths and charms, the Hollywood fixer looks like he could use a bit of a fix.
One of the hurdles facing the new season stems from the manner in which last year’s events fractured several key relationships. Not only did Liev Schreiber’s Ray acknowledge his own sexual abuse at the hands of a priest (which had taken a more overt toll on his brother), but he wound up estranged from his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson), who had been his emotional anchor, despite his affairs, moodiness and secretive nature. Indeed, while “Masters of Sex” gets the headlines on the sexual dysfunction front, “Ray Donovan” has explored the problem on its own grim terms.
Season two also left Ray severed from his professional associates. But his days as what amounts to a modern-day Ronin might not last long. That’s because his unique skills catch the eye of McShane’s Andrew Finney, a world-weary Master of the Universe who enlists him to recover his son, who has been kidnapped under suspicious circumstances. From there, Ray is recruited by Finney’s equally high-powered daughter, Paige (Holmes), although the actress seems more than anything to be impersonating a ‘40s femme fatale than actually playing one.
As usual, Ray’s ex-con dad Mickey (Jon Voight) steals much of the show, including his hilarious attempt to take over a prostitution racket. For Mickey, the sex trade is still back in the day of working street corners, and he’s shocked to hear one can pursue a favorite perversion via the Internet. Like, where’s the fun in that?
Similarly, the aforementioned Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is trying to run the family gym on his own, while third brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is in prison, a byproduct of last season’s robbery gone wrong.
The series has never really been a terribly high-concept product, deriving much of its appeal from the noirish atmosphere and general corruption that surrounds Ray, whose attempts to maintain some moral compass in this line of work have been repeatedly tested, perhaps never more explicitly than in the deal-with-the-devil (or McShane’s version of it) this season sets up. Because Schreiber’s character is so brooding and emotionally clenched, though, the series heavily relies on its supporting players and guest stars, which is where the opening salvo feels relatively malnourished.
That’s likely not an irreparable problem. But in TV, as in Ray’s line of work, these situations seldom fix themselves – and getting out of them occasionally requires cracking a few heads.