[07/11/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Black Donnellys, The" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c at midseason)

The network's description: "Academy Award winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco ("Crash") are the creators of "The Black Donnellys," a gritty new crime drama series loosely based on Moresco's background. The series follows the exploits of four young, working-class Irish brothers and their involvement in organized crime in New York City. Despite their rough surroundings, the Donnelly brothers basically remain "good kids" -- who will do anything to protect each other against all odds. The ensemble cast includes Jonathan Tucker ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), Billy Lush ("Huff"), Thomas Guiry ("Mystic River"), Michael Stahl-David ("Uncle Nino"), Keith Nobbs ("25th Hour"), Olivia Wilde ("The O.C.") and Kirk Acevedo ("Oz")."

What did they leave out: That's about it.

The plot in a nutshell: The story of the Donnelly brothers is recounted by their childhood friend Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs) - named as such due to a childhood incident involving, you guessed it, ice cream - as he's interrogated by a pair of New York detectives. There's Jimmy (Thomas Guiry), the hot head; Sean (Michael Stahl-David), the womanizer; Kevin (Billy Lush), the unlucky gambler; and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), the one that keeps the other three out of trouble. Despite their differences, they're an inseparable group and always watching each other's backs. They'll need that and more to clean up their current mess however - Kevin has racked up several thousand in gambling debts to Louie Downtown (don't you love these colorful names) and Jimmy has stolen a truck full of designer shirts to help pay it off. When that backfires, the two get the bright idea to kidnap Louie and hold him for ransom from his Italian mobster uncle Sal Minnetta. Tommy, who's left behind such indiscretions to focus on art school, gets approached by the local Irish mob boss (the always great Chris Bauer) to fix things and he reluctantly agrees to help - in spite of warnings from Jenny Reilly (Olivia Wilde), the local tomboy-turned-knockout who Tommy harbors a deep-seeded crush on. Things however go from bad to worse as Sal's enforcer Nicky Cottero (Kirk Acevedo) decides to take matters into his own hands - beating Sean to an inch of his life. A livid Jimmy - now revealed as a junk addict - retaliates in the worst way possible - killing Louie - eliminating any chance to talk things out. This puts Tommy in the ultimate position of having to either give his brother up or fight back and become the type of guy he's been trying to avoid becoming all his life.

What works: There's a jaw-dropping, holy shit moment at the end of the pilot where everything just clicks, like it had been operating in fourth gear for the first 40 minutes and then it finds a fifth in the last few moments. It's such a big moment - where all the various plot points and character beats smash together - that I still get chills just thinking about it. I won't spoil said event, just know that you'll look back at the previous 40 minutes in a completely different light. As for the show itself, it's a hodgepodge of all the Irish, Italian and mob cliches you've seen before but at the same time makes fun of them as often as it reinforces them. It's just a weird mix of goofy and serious that never quite falls into either category. That aspect gives the show something of a unique voice as Joey's irreverent narration is grounded by Tommy's "nice guy in a dark world" character. It's by no means a realistic show, but it creates its own world - one I'm excited to see more of.

What doesn't: On the flip side, it has a very niche feel about it - meaning being under the "it's pre-empting 'ER'" and "it's from the writer/director of 'Crash'" microscope will likely build up expectations that from a viewership standpoint it'll never achieve. After all, "Crash" wasn't a huge blockbuster, it built its audience slowly before walking away with an Oscar. One hopes NBC will have the patience to let to bloom.

The challenges ahead: As mentioned above, will the "it's pre-empting 'ER'" expectation prove to be too much?

  [july 2006]  


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