* DEXTER. 9 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.

* RAY DONOVAN. 10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.

THE MOURNING'S already begun in some circles for "Dexter," which begins its eighth and final season Sunday with an episode that finds Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) dealing in very different ways with the aftermath of last year's stunning finale.

Charlotte Rampling guest stars this season as someone who may have a different take on Dexter's feelings for his sister as well as a use for his particular skill set.

But before television's most sympathetic serial killer shrink-wraps his final victim, Showtime's hoping to fix you up with someone new.

His name is "Ray Donovan," and he, too, could be a killer date.

Just don't expect him to talk anyone to death.

Because while Dexter Morgan is still trying to explain himself, in that never-ending voiceover that's probably no more trustworthy than the voices in anyone else's head, Ray (Liev Schreiber) speaks only when he has something to say.

And in the pantheon of cable antiheroes, this Hollywood fixer with a whole lot that needs fixing is closer to Edie Falco's "Nurse Jackie" than he is to "Dexter" or to James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, with a protective instinct so strong it can get him in trouble with the very people he's meant to be watching out for.

So when he gets a call from a client who's woken up to find a woman dead in his bed, he first wants to make sure the anonymous victim's really beyond his help.

"Do you think you're the first person I've dealt with who woke up with a dead body? Take your fingers and feel for a pulse," he orders, only turning to an ingenious solution to the looming PR crisis she represents when he's sure she can't be saved.

Given how many seasons "Entourage" ran on HBO, "Ray Donovan" creator Ann Biderman ("Southland") could probably have written an entertaining enough series about Ray and his colorful colleagues - played by Philly's Katherine Moennig ("The L Word") and Steven Bauer ("Scarface") - running around LA, sorting out potential disasters for the high-profile clients of a pair of lawyers played by Peter Jacobson ("House") and Elliott Gould.

The result might have been akin to a version of "The Sopranos" where Tony never went to therapy and it was all about the whacking, and I'm pretty sure lots of people would have loved it.

Biderman reached for more, though, and so while her "Ray Donovan" can be wickedly funny, it's also a darker drama about all the things Ray can't fix, starting with his family, and particularly his father, Mickey (Jon Voight).

It's telling that the very first scene takes place on the other side of the country from its title character and features Mickey, who's leaving prison after 20 years, apparently intent on something more than just a reunion with his sons, who've all relocated to LA from their native south Boston.

Voight is perfectly cast as the one person who can plausibly terrify Ray, and he and Schreiber have a crackling chemistry.

The supporting players are terrific, too, starting with Paula Malcomson ("Deadwood") as Ray's wife, Abby, who's desperate to fit in with the people for whom her husband is merely the high-priced help, and including Dash Mihok and Eddie Marsan as Ray's damaged brothers.

But it's Schreiber, who manages to convey a lot while seemingly remaining impassive much of the time, who somehow holds "Ray Donovan" together.

Someone needs to. There's a lot going on here - from the repercussions of childhood sexual abuse to the portrait of a marriage that feels if not perfect, at least real - and a lot of characters in whom viewers could become invested.

It may be unrealistic to look for a happy ending for any cable drama, where things going from bad to worse is as much a given as nudity. But "Ray Donovan" cares a little too much about its characters to cut off all hope.

And who wouldn't want to believe, for at least an hour a week, that anything - or anyone - can be fixed?

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray