Showtime’s newest drama series “Ray Donovan” (premieres Sun) has as much potential as its duplicitous title character—an educated thug who uses guile, misdirection and intimidation to fix others’ problems but who can’t seem to mend his own family. Is Ray good or bad? We’re not sure. He helps the rich and famous in L.A. get away with things that would put most of us in prison—often resorting to raw violence. Only the presence of a psychopathic father makes some of Ray’s questionable actions look reasonable by comparison.

Still, Ray’s likeable somehow as he protects the weak (including his troubled brothers) and loves his family. Showtime pres, entertainment David Nevins hopes viewers will get sucked into this dark but alluring world, noting Tues at the premiere screening and party in Hollywood that “my love for this show is very personal. It’s my kind of television. It’s the kind of show I like to watch.” And to be sure, there’s plenty to love here, including some stellar acting by Lieb Schreiber as Ray, Jon Voight as his despicable dad Mickey and the incredible Paula Malcomson as Ray’s tough-as-nails wife Abby. “Some things just come together,” Schreiber told premiere attendees. “And you’re blessed when that happens.”

Show creator and writer Ann Biderman, a Hollywood veteran with credits too long to list here, mixes grit, grime and dark humor into an alluring brew that often doesn’t end well for her characters. For example, when Ray covers a stalker in green paint to teach him a lesson, we think he’s off the hook until Ray returns later to beat him senseless with a baseball bat. Even love scenes aren’t safe in this world where pulling back the covers from a naked woman reveals that she’s dead or
a sexual romp ends in an epileptic seizure. Will viewers respond, considering the glut of “dark and gritty drama” now filling the cable universe? We’ll see. But the show appears to be in good hands so far.

EDITOR’S NOTE : Go here for a slideshow of the Los Angeles premiere.

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