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‘Ray Donovan’ cable’s newest anti-hero drama

Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” plunges viewers into the world of the show’s eponymous lead character, a Los Angeles fixer who helps repair the image of Hollywood celebrities while attempting to keep his own family from unraveling, a more difficult task.

Punctuated by violent dramatic sequences and a decent amount of wily, dark humor, “Ray Donovan,” Sundays at 10 p.m., is another version of the anti-hero show that’s become so popular on cable in recent years.

The show turns out to be heavier on family drama than it initially lets on. Early scenes focus on Ray (Liev Schreiber) on the job, handling the situation when a celebrity athlete wakes up with a dead woman in his bed and helping a young action-hero movie star maintain his tough-guy reputation after he’s spotted giving oral sex to a transsexual hooker.

Ray’s work life offers the show’s most entertaining moments, which bring to mind the idiot denizens of Los Angeles who populated TNT’s recently canceled “Southland,” which, like “Ray Donovan,” was created by writer Ann Biderman.

But unlike “Southland,” which was almost obsessively focused on the work life of Los Angeles cops, “Ray Donovan” spends a lot of time dealing with Ray and his family.

Structurally, “Ray Donovan” is rather similar to “The Sopranos.” Stories move between Ray’s family and job as he tries to find a balance between them. Ray isn’t seeing a shrink – at least, not yet – but he does have issues with one of his parents, another “Sopranos” similarity.

An early scene shows Ray’s father, Mickey (Jon Voight), being released from prison in Massachusetts and attending to his first order of business: murdering a priest.

Ray and his business associates, Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) and Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson), may have had a hand in Mickey’s incarceration. So they’re not eager for him to be on the outside. Ray wants Mickey nowhere near his family, but his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), thinks Ray’s concerns about his father are overblown, perhaps even pathological.

“You’re sick, Ray,” she says in a Boston accent that’s more glaring than that of any of the other Boston-bred characters. “You’ve got a hole in your heart.”

Ray’s brothers, Parkinson’s-afflicted Terry (Eddie Marsan) and addict Bunchy (Dash Mihok), are less terrified of their father; all three siblings mourn the death of a sister.

The dreary, often predictable family story begins to suffocate the show as it gains ground over the first four episodes. Whether it continues in that direction remains an open question until more episodes are available.

“Ray Donovan” benefits from strategic use of character actors in supporting roles. In addition to Gould, the show’s first season will include regular, recurring or guest appearances by Katherine Moennig (“Three Rivers,” “The L Word”), Austin Nichols (“John From Cincinnati”), Johnathon Schaech (“That Thing You Do!”), and James Woods (“Shark”).

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