His Name Is Ray, But He's No Ray Of Sunshine

In an era of antiheroes, Ray Donovan might be the anti-est hero of them all.

And that’s saying a lot, since the pantheon of TV antiheroes in the current era going back about 15 years includes Tony Soprano, a stone-cold gangster (not to mention murderer); Dexter Morgan (“Dexter”), a psychotic serial killer; Vic Mackey, a corrupt cop who killed a federal agent in the very first episode of “The Shield”; and Don Draper, the moody, philandering, alcoholic jerk of “Mad Men.”

Ray Donovan -- the title character of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” which is starting its third season this weekend -- isn’t quite on par with some of the aforementioned characters in the murdering department (although he did kill a priest last season -- a man who molested him as a child).



But Ray is a classic antihero in the sense that he’s wholly unlikable, although he’s also so charismatic that you cannot take your eyes off him. That doesn’t exactly translate into liking him or rooting for him, however.

Whatever the acts committed by the other antiheroes, it was possible to like them -- at least a little, sometimes. With Ray Donovan, that’s not so easy. Even Tony Soprano had a sense of humor, and Vic Mackey had a sense of honor (in his own twisted way). And Dexter may have been a serial murderer, but his victims were other serial killers, so you were made to think: What’s the harm?

Ray, however, seems to possess none of these qualities. He is the dourest, surliest antihero seen yet in any of TV’s antihero dramas. He is almost always scowling, has never made a comment even remotely resembling a joke (that I can recall) and is given to mood swings that are so dark he makes Don Draper seem like the life of the party.

As Season Three of “Ray Donovan” gets underway, the gloom that surrounds Ray is in full flower. He is separated from his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), following her affair last season with an L.A. police detective. And Ray’s mentor and employer (and for all intents and purposes, Ray’s best friend), Ezra (Elliott Gould), is in the hospital and presumably dying.

Ray is even on the outs with his top operative, Avi (Steven Bauer). As for the rest of Ray’s family -- principally his brothers, his father and his children, forget it. One of his brothers -- Terry (Eddie Marsan) -- is in prison and suffering from Parkinson’s, and the other, Bunchy (Dash Mihok), is still a pathetic man-child who is now managing the family boxing gym -- a responsibility that far surpasses his meager skill level.

It all adds up to the kind of dramatic tension that has turned “Ray Donovan” -- the show, if not the actual guy -- into a TV drama that many people love, despite (or perhaps because of) the odious characters and situations it depicts. The world of “Ray Donovan” -- primarily the world of the rich and famous in and around L.A. -- is such an antisocial, duplicitous and grotesque place that it is actually one of the most uncomfortable dramas to watch that you will find anywhere on television. And yet you cannot look away. Or at least I cannot.

Why the discomfort? Because everyone in the show -- from Ray to his wife, his kids and everybody else -- seems to be experiencing such a high degree of acute discontent in their lives that it can be painful to watch them. The sole exception is Ray’s psychopathic father, Mickey, a career criminal from Boston. He’s a supremely contented criminal opportunist who never seems to have a worry in the world.

While the pleasures of watching “Ray Donovan” are numerous (despite the challenges), perhaps the greatest pleasure is watching Jon Voight in the role of Mickey. It is a mesmerizing performance. 

I watched the first two new episodes of “Ray Donovan,” provided by Showtime, and wrote in my notes that the show seemed reenergized this season. Among the reasons: Two new cast members who are on board for at least part of the season -- Katie Holmes and Ian McShane (“Deadwood”).

The third season of “Ray Donovan” starts Sunday night (July 12) at 9 Eastern on Showtime.

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