Plot: Hollywood fixer Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) looks like he’s on the road to recovery. He’s going to therapy to give his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) the emotional honesty she needs and he’s becoming more a present father to his kids Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and Conor (Devon Bagby). However, the past keeps rearing its ugly head. The FBI, headed up by a big wig named Cochran (Hank Azarian), sees through the flimsy facade of the murder of Sully (James Woods) last season and demands that Ray’s dad Mickey (Jon Voight), who is exiled in Mexico, return to L.A. to answer for the crime. Meanwhile’s Ray’s brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) is drinking and stalking his ex-lover (Brooke Smith) and Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is still reeling from his history of sexual abuse.
Never thought the day would come when a dolphin would frighten me.
Yet, in the opening of the second season of Ray Donovan, there it was, a poorly animated CGI dolphin talking to a drunk Jon Voight in the middle of the ocean.
It was frightening.
Had Ray Donovan, one of the best surprises of the 2013 television series gone off the deep end already? Had the writers dropped to much acid in their heyday and was this talking mammal a manifestation of floating in the ether? Was this show going to jump the shark (or in this case dolphin) barely five minutes into its sophomore season? We’ve seen shows do all sorts of wacky and nonsensical things coming off a hot debut season, so would Ray Ray follow suit.
Not a chance.
All the gaga and silliness of the first few minutes aside, Ray Donovan’s premiere showed that the series was going to be as bloody, uncompromising, intense and unexpectedly funny as the first season. What will change this season is the season’s theme — Ray’s attempt to redeem himself and the razor’s edge that he walks on to do so. Throughout the premiere we see two sides of Ray, the bloody and blunt fixer with a DILLIGAF attitude and a man who’s trying to do right by his family and actually be a caring father and husband. It’s an interesting dynamic because you, as the viewer, are split on the way you want to view Ray. The moral and humane side of you wants to see him become a better person, but there’s still a side of you that enjoys seeing the bad ass, punch first, whiskey second, random chicks third, kinda Ray Donovan roaming around your screen. Liev Schreiber fills the role perfectly as you can see the emotional pain etched across his steely cool eyes. Also, that the shot of him, shirtless, walking into a Mexican cantina with a baseball bat to end the episode is a shot that will become iconic to this season and this series. That was one of Schreiber’s top moments in this character by far.
Ray Donovan wouldn’t be Ray Donovan without the brilliant Jon Voight. No matter how hammy his performance gets, it all makes perfect sense. Mickey Donovan is an absolute piece of garbage but yet there’s a glimmer of hope in those sozzled, stoned eyes of the aging Boston-Irish criminal. Mickey’s life is running parallel to Ray’s — he’s in a new place in life, but instead of heading down the road to redemption he remains on the road of drunken debauchery and unscrupulous hustling. Watching Voight on screen is a true treat as the actor seems to be having the time of his life.
The supporting cast of Ray Donovan is getting a huge shot in the arm from the guest stars we saw in the premiere and in the trailers for the season. Hank Azaria has come on full time, in essence replacing Frank Whaley. Azaria is always top notch and seeing him return to drama is going to be a real treat. Also, one of my personal favorite character actors, The Wire’s Wendell Pierce will be dropping in as a parole officer while Stark Trek: The Next Generation star Brett Spiner, ’60s sex symbol Ann-Margaret and Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn will be dropping in for cameos. On paper, these greatly trump last year’s impressive guest list (except for James Woods, because no one can touch James Woods.)
The second season premiere of Ray Donovan promises viewers another potentially great season. Yet, there are a few factors making a viewer a wee bit nervous. Will the show try to do too much from a plot perspective? Will we be subjected to a lot of teary-eyed screaming matches between Ray and Abby (we had our fill last year)? Can the show recapture the magic it created last year? These are concerns that are legit, but putting all talking dolphins aside, the second season premiere is more than reassuring that Ray Donovan is returning to true form.
all images credit: showtime
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom