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We gave our "first look" at the pilot back in July (clicking here to read it). Here we take a "second look" using the show's four subsequent episodes.
WARNING: While we try to avoid them, some spoilers may follow so read at your own risk.
THE BLACK DONNELLYS (NBC)
(Mondays at 10:00/9:00c starting February 26)
The network's description: "(from NBC's press release) "Academy Award winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (�Crash�) are the creators of NBC�s �The Black Donnellys,� a gritty new crime-drama series filmed in New York City and loosely based on Moresco�s background. The show follows the exploits of four young, working-class Irish-American brothers and their involvement in organized crime in New York City. The Donnelly brothers will do anything to protect each other against all odds. The ensemble cast includes Kirk Acevedo, Thomas Guiry, Billy Lush, Keith Nobbs, Michael Stahl-David, Jonathan Tucker and Olivia Wilde."
What's changed since the original pilot was shot?: Look for Kate Mulgrew ("Star Trek: Voyager") to take over as the Donnellys' matriarch in the second episode. Also, it looks like Arcade Fire's awesome "Rebellion (Lies)" couldn't be cleared for the pilot's chill-inducing closing sequence. Instead we get Snow Patrol's "Open Your Eyes."
The plot in a nutshell: Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs) continues to recount the Donnellys' adventures from prison with each episode featuring a different sounding board - his lawyer, a cop guarding his cell and a court psychiatrist to name a few. (They're also cleverly used in lieu of "previously on..." segments.) Anywho, the events of the pilot not surprisingly see the Irish and Italian mobs scrambling to fill the power vacuum as Huey's (Chris Bauer) axe-wielding brother Dokey (Peter Greene) searches for answers while Nicky Cottero (Kirk Acevedo) turns his sights even further up the chain. Amongst the Donnellys, Sean (Michael Stahl-David) falls into depression following his attack, Kevin (Billy Lush) brings a hustler (Kevin Corrigan) into the fold to start taking bets from Louie Downtown's client list, Jimmy (Thomas Guiry) continues to be a bull in a china shop; and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) sees his art school ambitions - as well as his relationship with Jenny Reilly (Olivia Wilde) - disappear before they can even begin. In between said plots, Mrs. Donnelly (Kate Mulgrew) materializes long enough bake casseroles and chase away Sean's new flame, Tommy gets a new rival for Jenny's affections (James Badge Dale, at least I think it's him) not to mention bonds with Huey's widow (Molly Schaffer) while Jenny struggles with her father's newfound memory lapses. And lastly, a visit to City Hall gives us a glimpse into the Irish and Italian mobs' true intentions.
What works: Whether or not you enjoyed the pilot's fast-talking mix of serious and silly, the episodes that follow will quickly solidify your feelings in one direction or another. For every scene with Tommy breaking Louie Downtown's legs so he can fit in an oil drum there's another with Joey Ice Cream comically trying to insert himself into the events he's recounting. It's an acquired taste for sure, one I'm happy to say I quite enjoy. Overall, I just love how this show creates its own little universe - even if it is a little silly - and unabashedly clings to it. The hardest thing to find in TV nowadays is a unique voice - and "Donnellys" undoubtedly has one. It's all perfectly embodied in Keith Nobbs' Joey Ice Cream character. In other words, it's like having a buddy tell you a heavily embellished story - complete with "oh wait I forgot to tell you about"s and "while he/she didn't know it, this was the moment"s. When's the last time you saw a TV show try to do that?
What doesn't: Outside of Tommy, the other Donnelly brothers aren't given much to do - Sean disappears for several episodes (albeit, for understandable reasons); Kevin is either a "yes man" or a punching bag depending upon the scene; and Jimmy's one-note antics become increasingly grating, almost to the point where one wonders why anyone - guilt ridden brother or not - would save him. You'd just expect - considering the title - to see a little more heavy lifting from the other sides of the Donnelly quartet. Also, the show takes the term "Irish guilt" to the nth degree. Each week Tommy is given a Sisyphusian task (i.e. something that will simply be undone the moment he finishes it) he must complete in order to protect his family - everything from collecting money from a deadbeat friend to stealing from a widow - and then made to pay a "price" that eats away at his soul to do it. By episode five, it's gone from "you've got to be kidding me" to "no f-ing way." Sure I get the intention - how far one will go to protect the ones they love - but when that task is... well, you'll know it when you see it, it begins to erode the show's credibility.
The challenges ahead: At the end of the day, TV needs shows with unique voices like this. Whether the TV audience actually embraces them, well, that's something else entirely.