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'Ray Donovan' Returns for Round Two
July 12, 2014  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment

Last week, producer and series creator Ann Biderman was probably thinking she needed a baseball bat to get some Emmy attention for her Showtime drama Ray Donovan. And she knows one or two things about the persuasive use of that tough-guy device, since one shows up in the Season 2 opener, premiering Sunday night at 9 ET.

Biderman’s series (her latest after the cop drama Southland) got the cold shoulder for writing or directing in this year's Emmy nominations. So did Liev Schreiber for his work as Ray, a hardscrabble South Boston émigré now living the upper-middle class life as a fixer and muscle man for the wealthy in Los Angeles. Only Jon Voight got a supporting actor nomination for his role as Ray’s father, Mickey, a Whitey Bulger-type who ratted to the FBI to get out of prison last season.

Voight deservedly was acknowledged for all of Mickey’s ex-con antics, getting over on, and sponging off of, his emotionally stunted adult sons for whatever he needed.

Too bad for Biderman, who co-writes the first two episodes of Season 2 sent for review and Schreiber, who has switched up the current anti-hero model with a few new moral shadings. It’s hard to look at the Emmy nominees for best drama and not think Ray Donovan ought to have been there, and the flagging Downton Abbey or the ever more preposterous House of Cards should not. As universally acclaimed as the Peabody-winning Southland was, it never assembled more than a few Emmy stunt coordination nominations. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Ray Donovan continues to command attention with surprise twists and taut direction as it resets with noir and daring for its current season. In episode two, Ray has to step in and get the star of an American Idol-like show out of the bedroom of a famous rapper, where she's been shot in the arm by a jealous wife, and somehow get her onstage the same night to compete in the final – along with a generally plausible story.

And fans of last season’s memorable hallucinatory appearance of a suited Capuchin monkey to now-departed agent Miller (Frank Whaley) in a men’s room won’t be disappointed when another anthropomorphized mammal appears in Sunday night’s premiere. 

Plot gymnastics aside, perhaps Ray Donovan’s badge of honor is its character study of Ray — a guy who is consistently outside the lines of the law but firmly rooted in his married life and family. While that takes a page from Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Ray has no illusions of getting out of his line of work or the lifestyle it provides him. 

Last season, Ray and his brothers dispensed their own brand of street justice, late at night, to a pedophilic priest from the family's past inside the downbeat L.A. boxing gym of brother Terry (Eddie Marsan). 

Now he’s off to marriage counseling with wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) because of the psychic gulf his underworld life has created between himself and his family life. That’s a Sopranos-style hood-in-therapy scenario, but Ray, unlike Tony, seems to authentically care about his kids' happiness (Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby). Perhaps more like Mad Men’s Don Draper, he hasn’t come to realize that his problems aren’t his dual roles – in Ray's case as a street-wise enforcer and suburban provider for his family. It’s the cost of the moral equivalence he’s made to keep them divided. 

He can’t look his wife, or his kids, too straight in the face until he at least makes a try at making a straight living, although he probably won’t go the A-1 Carwash route, as Walter did.

In the meantime, Biderman and Ray Donovan continue to provide, too – among the best that television drama can achieve.
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Ray Donovan is one of the richest shows on TV.
It will take awhile for mainstream humanity to get it....... Or not.
Jul 13, 2014   |  Reply
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