Showtime delivers a solid one-two punch on Sunday, following the start of the eighth and final season of Dexter with the premiere of its impressive series Ray Donovan (10 p.m.).
In a casting coup, Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) makes his TV debut as the title character, a supremely capable Hollywood "fixer."
When elite actors, athletes, millionaires, musicians, or studio bosses get themselves stuck in a serious (usually criminal) jam, Ray gets them out. By any means necessary. It's like The Godfather with paparazzi.
The show is the creation of Ann Biderman, who fortunately has not given up on TV despite how unconscionably her previous stellar effort, Southland, was overlooked by viewers.
Ray Donovan generates an authentic and convincing noir atmosphere, something rarely accomplished in the medium. It's like a cross between FX's lamented Lights Out and a gritty update of the old Quinn Martin productions.
But before you sink into the recliner, you should know that this show, like most pay-cable projects, deserves a hard TV-MA rating. The content here is strictly adult, sometimes even gratuitously so.
The bullet-headed Schreiber is outstanding as a modern-day Philip Marlowe, wading resolutely into the moral cesspool of Los Angeles. In fact, this may be the most resonant TV performance since David Caruso first played John Kelly on NYPD Blue.
Ray is ruthless, but Schreiber is able to subtly convey the man's softer side, which can emerge around his kids and around particularly vulnerable individuals.
The cast is uniformly excellent, including Paula Malcomson (Deadwood) as Ray's wife, Dash Mihok (Silver Linings Playbook) and Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) as his damaged brothers, Kerris Dorsey (Moneyball) as his daughter, and Steven Bauer (Scarface) as his proxy.
Ray gets most of his assignments through a high-powered and shifty (or is that redundant?) legal team made up of Ezra (Elliott Gould), who is developing pangs of conscience at the end of a scurrilous career, and his partner Lee (Peter Jacobson of House), who may remind you of a more apoplectic and profane version of another Hollywood fixer, Entourage's Ari.
James Woods and Frank Whaley also turn up in recurring roles.
The only elements that don't entirely mesh are Jon Voight as Ray's conniving father, newly sprung from a long prison term in Massachusetts, and Kwame Patterson as Re-Kon, the music-blaring rap star who lives next door to the Donovans.
Their home, by the way, is in Calabasas. The town, which lies on the 101 between Sherman Oaks and Thousand Oaks, comes in for a lot of bashing on the show.
"I hate it here," says Ray's wife. "It's like the friggin' Jersey Shore of L.A." And Lee fulminates, "Who lives in Calabasas anyway? Sinbad? Howie Mandel? Jesus, Ray!"
Providing a surprising amount of emotional heft to the series are the frequent dramatizations of basement meetings of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). Mihok's character, Bunchy, was molested by a Catholic clergyman as a kid when the family still lived in South Boston.
But the cynosure of Ray Donovan is Schreiber as the doughty hero, a tough guy who dances.
10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.