Ray Donovan, the Hollywood fixer in the show by the same name, is going to be preoccupied for a time fixing his family – and himself. That was where season one ended and season two picks up, in this Showtime series of intermittent appeal, where Liev Schreiber’s taciturn leading man is frequently eclipsed by the raging id that is his ex-con father, played with unrestrained gusto by Jon Voight. Several cast additions enliven the show, but the dark turn into priestly abuse and revenge has left the series toting excess baggage – and not just a baseball bat – in these opening frames.
For those who missed season one (and SPOILER warnings for those who might begin belatedly), Ray’s emotionally damaged brother, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), turned out to be not the only family member molested by a priest, who the brothers (and it bears repeating: No trio of on-screen siblings have ever looked less alike) eventually dispatched. This not only undermined a budding romantic relationship for third brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) but has clearly exacted a toll on Ray, at least if his eerie dreams and strange behavior toward his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) are any indication.
The closing events of the first season – involving the death of a mobster Ray enlisted to whack his dad, Mickey – have also put Ray squarely in the crosshairs of an ambitious new FBI L.A. Bureau Chief (Hank Azaria), who labels him a “bagman for movie stars,” forcing the fixer to schlep to Mexico, trying to bring his dad back to clear up the mess.
If all that weren’t enough, Ray’s revelations to Abby have left their own relationship teetering – she even drags him to couples therapy, while experiencing her own midlife crisis – and his teenage kids continue to act out in rather tiresome pay-cable ways.
As created and written by Ann Biderman, there’s certainly a lot to chew on here, with the inevitable detours into salacious stories involving pro athletes and “American Idol” contestants. That includes not just the central cast but side players like Azaria, Wendell Pierce, Ann-Margret and Vinessa Shaw, the last as a Boston reporter nosing around regarding what really happened on that dock last year.
Still, “Ray Donovan” remains somewhat limited in its appeal – featuring colorful characters, yes, but at times constricted by Ray’s cowboy nature, which includes a professional knack for finding weak spots and exploiting them. Perhaps that’s why Voight’s Mickey is such a vital component – unlike his son, a man who talks softly and totes around a big stick, somebody who never knows when to shut up.
Showtime effectively launched the series behind “Dexter,” and now “Ray” will be asked to stand on its own. And while the series possesses enough pleasures, guilty or otherwise, to warrant a secure place in the DVR queue, it still feels like a program that is finding its way – seeking a balance between the seedy underbelly of L.A. glamor and the most dysfunctional of family dramas, connected by a fixer who’s mostly a downer.