“Ray Donovan” took a plunge into the unknown — quite literally — in its season-five finale. But as the series returns, the Showtime drama is wading into somewhat different waters, bringing with it an additional layer of baggage as the series makes the move to New York.
That’s because the “Ray Donovan” comparison has become a popular one in discussing Michael Cohen, the former attorney to President Trump, who has since pleaded guilty to fraud and campaign finance law violations. Cohen — who actually tagged the series in a tweet last March, prior to his plea deal — has been referred to as Trump’s “fixer,” a term applied to the title character (Liev Schreiber), whose ruthless machinations on behalf of his clients go well beyond the confines of what’s strictly legal.
Of course, nobody has accused Cohen of personally brandishing a baseball bat to get the job done, and “Ray Donovan” — the series and the guy — has a lot more to accomplish this season, which sees the character wrestling with whether he has the will to continue after losing his beloved wife.
New York, meanwhile, brings a whole new web of entanglements, including Ray’s unexpected friendship with the cop (“The Wire’s” Domenick Lombardozzi) who helps rescue him, more work for studio mogul Sam Winslow (Susan Sarandon, whose guest role is being expanded) and Ray’s involvement with a mayoral candidate (“NYPD Blue” alum Lola Glaudini), whose campaign runs into some fairly dramatic snags.
With Ray having plied his trade in Hollywood, the show seems comfortable adapting those skills to the equally unsavory spheres of New York media and politics, where more money tends to breed bigger problems — and the prospect of amoral, bordering-on-criminal schemes to advance and protect those in positions of power.
Where the show suffers with the move, at least initially, is with its colorful cast of supporting characters, whose exploits are largely left to unfold separately. That includes Ray’s small-time-hood dad Mickey (Jon Voight), who finds himself back behind bars, and his brothers and stepbrother, each wrestling with their own issues.
In some respects, the change in venue offers the show’s creative team a chance to virtually rebuild it around the central character, who — in the throes of grief — is even more taciturn and non-verbal than in the past.
“Ray Donovan” was probably ready to shake things up — having felt played out, and more of a bummer than usual, thanks to its protracted death arc — and its return, as noted, has the advantage of having received a rather sizable promotional assist from real-life events.
Whether Ray can successfully navigate the change of venue to the Big Apple might be another matter, but if he can’t make it there, it might be time to hang up his bat for good.
“Ray Donovan” returns Oct. 28 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.