June 25, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Ray Donovan”


RAY DONOVAN:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime

When a car crashes into a Los Angeles wall in the Season 4 premiere of Showtime’s sizable if somewhat inexplicable hit RAY DONOVAN, it doesn’t just crash into a wall:  it crashes directly into a giant mural of the Virgin Mary.  That’s the way Ray Donovan rolls, its dark Catholic imagery and original sin worn on its sleeve.  So it follows that when Ray (Liev Schreiber, who also directed the season premiere) has to cover things up when boxing champion Hector Campos (Ismael Cruz Cordova) is found by a cop with drugs and a naked woman in a motel room, that woman and Hector will turn out to share a primal secret.  On Ray Donovan, things are always worse than they could be.

As Season 4 begins, with an hour written by showrunner David Hollander, about the best that can be said of the Donovans is that they survived Season 3.  That wasn’t a certainty, since Ray had last been seen unconscious in the aisle of a church, felled by a bullet wound earned in a shootout with Armenian mobsters, but he was nursed back to health by Hector and Father Romero (Leland Orser).  Although Ray is purportedly a bit more emotionally expressive after having admitted his molestation as a child in the priest’s support group, taciturn is still the word to describe him.  The premiere is slow to get things started, but it appears as though a central plotline will have Ray, against his better judgment, working with crooked art dealer Sonia Kovitzky (Embeth Davidtz).  Meanwhile, Ray’s brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is bereft because the Church won’t let him take part in an overseas ministry, daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) is only gingerly back with the family after running away from home in Season 3, and Ray doesn’t even know yet that his wife Abby (Paula Malcolmson) has been diagnosed with the early stages of breast cancer, and faces a double mastectomy.

As usual, the closest Ray Donovan comes to a light tone is with the tale of bad-penny dad Mickey (Jon Voight), who’s now located on the outskirts of Las Vegas, hiding from the feds with a false identity and running petty scams.  A peyote trip convinces him that his destiny is to rob the casino owned by Little Bill Primm (Ted Levine, whose character runs a casino with the in-joke name of Buffalo Bill’s).  Mickey may be a monster, but Voight exudes more vitality than the rest of the clan put together.

When Hollander took over Ray Donovan last season, he eased up a bit on Ray and Mickey constantly wanting to kill each other, and allowed for the possibility of redemption from the characters’ spiritual miasma.  Nevertheless, the series is mostly grim, impressive for the sheer weight that Schreiber and the others are able to summon around them.  Schreiber, whose direction of the premiere is unobtrusively in tune with the show’s tone, can bring a lifetime of guilt and pain to a monosyllable, and he’s convincingly someone who can outthink or otherwise subdue everyone else on screen as well.

Despite its overwhelming darkness and measured pace, viewers have a taste for Ray Donovan, and Season 4 should provide more of the same.  Despite Showtime’s questionable decision to premiere the season against the Game of Thrones finale, it should find its ratings footing after that, heavy of heart and unsubtle of symbolism as it may be.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."