“Make yourselves devastating,” insists Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) midway through the season-three premiere of Ray Donovan. He’s talking to his neighbors, hoping they’ll dress up for a small party he’s throwing for the complex where he lives, after he’s supplied them with a communal grill. The line sticks out, if not for the reason the writers of this tasteless, testosterone-addled crime drama may want it to. There’s a sense throughout the episode, as well as the two seasons that preceded it, that the series is straining to be edgy and emotionally lacerating, especially now that the titular Hollywood fixer (Liev Schreiber) must face the irreversible repercussions of his fallout with Ezra (Elliott Gould), his friend and mentor. Ray Donovan wears its emotional damages, rooted in familial abuse, sexual molestation, and myriad personal betrayals, like a veil to disguise the fact that it’s got all the emotional insight and societal concern of the Boondock Saints movies.
The main character is seen as a great white burdened cynic, an Irish lug who mercilessly beats and kills people, but supposedly only uses brutality to hide a sensitive side. Certain exchanges between Ray and other characters—Mickey, most prominently—suggest the character possesses a vulnerability and tenderness, but never for long, or viscerally enough, for him to palpably come off as anything more than a steely, brooding, and ultimately exhausting tough guy. The entire world of the series feels typified by nothing more than pent-up machismo, which is unconvincingly depicted as both essential and torturous to survive. Additionally, Ray Donovan’s main female character, Abby (Paula Malcomson), is characterized as an indecisive drunk who spends most of the first episode of the season begging for her husband Ray’s forgiveness, following her affair with a cop last season. The immorality of Ray’s work, and his grim perspective of the world at large, are only passingly considered and largely used to make him look even more badass.
Even this, however, is more tolerable than the rampant product placement that cuts down any sense of dramatic rhythm throughout. Scenes depicting Ray’s younger brother Bunchy’s (Dash Mihok) search for a proper girlfriend hint at signs of a genuinely fascinating, nuanced study of an emotional awakening, but devolve quickly into a Match.com commercial, with Abby literally teaching Bunchy how to use the site. Elsewhere, Uber plays a key role in Ray’s plan to rescue the enigmatic Finney’s (Ian McShane) son, and the driver essentially sells the ease of the app while having a gun stuck in his face. These moments cheapen an already paper-thin premise and unstable narrative trajectory that together insist on measuring masculinity by how tortured a man acts and how miserable he feels each time he beats the shit out of someone.