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In Review: The Black Donnellys Big Blast Into Primetime by Lin Sbordone

Posted on 03/09/2007 by RealityWanted and General News

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Replacing Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, at least during its indefinite hiatus, NBC launched The Black Donnellys in its Monday 10pm time-slot this week following its lead-in hit show Heroes. For anyone who missed it, the pilot episode can be seen in full either through the NBC website for those residing in the USA or via http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xupby_the-black-donnellys-1x01-pilot
for those living in Canada and elsewhere. Created by Academy Award winning writers Paul Haggis of Crash and Million Dollar Baby fame and Paul Moresco of Crash fame, this is one network drama that, despite several flaws in the pilot, deserves to make it.

In the pilot, narrated by a "friend" of the Donnelly brothers "Joey Ice Cream" from his holding cell in jail, we meet the Donnelly family, all of whom are of Black Irish descent. First off, there's Tommy Donnelly, the aspiring art student. He's the brother who serves as the watchdog for his fellow brothers and, through his hard work and going straight, possesses a real chance of making it out of the dark Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. In stark contrast to Tommy, we meet Jimmy Donnelly, a drunk and a brawler, who owns the tavern that serves as the Donnelly brothers' hang out. To complete the ensemble, there is Kevin Donnelly, the gambler who never wins a single bet. The youngest brother Sean Donnelly is the good-looking one who follows the cues of his brothers as to what to do, all the while stealing their girlfriends when they're not watching. In addition, there is Jenny Reilly, a long-time friend of the Donnelly brothers since childhood who, though married, retains a not-so-secret love for Tommy.

During the first episode, we find out why Tommy Donnelly has yet to leave the neighborhood. His need to protect his brothers has a base root in shame for an act he accidentally committed as a child, leaving him feeling bound to watch over the rest of his brothers. His feelings make him particularly protective of Jimmy against whom he feels he committed the unspeakable offense. We also learn the role that guilt plays in Jimmy's life and the hatred it has created in his heart for the Italians that are seeking to overtake a neighborhood that has long been ruled by the Black Irish. When Kevin finds himself even further in debt with a local bookie that happens to be of Italian descent, the sparks truly begin to fly. By the ending, in order to protect Jimmy from those who planned to have him killed and who also committed an atrocious act against Sean, Tommy, accompanied by Kevin, retaliates against the both the Italians and the current Black Irish ruler of the area. Whether intentional or not, this puts Tommy, the most unlikely of the Donnelly clan, in the position as the new Black Irish ruler of Hell's Kitchen.
What he will do with this newfound power provides the crux of the upcoming shows.

While fast paced, well-acted, and thoroughly entertaining, The Black Donnelly's pilot is not without its flaws. First and foremost, the characters are introduced so quickly that it unlikely the average viewer could even distinguish which brother is which during the first airing.
While also beautifully narrated by "Joey Ice Cream", a character that is likely intentionally annoying, the flashback scenes, though creative, make the plot even more difficult to initially follow. With the exception of Tommy, character development lacks appropriate depth to make the show comparable to other shows of its type such as the Sopranos or even The Brotherhood. The songs, while musically appealing in and of themselves, are played with such timing as to be nothing but annoying distractions. Not only is there an overuse of stereotypes, the sheer plausibility of the softness of the characters actually unwittingly garnering control of the neighborhood seems a bit unlikely as well.

Nevertheless, for a network show, The Black Donnellys remains well worth the watch. So long as one can make it through the first 20 minutes of the show, it somehow grabs the viewer in a strongly compelling manner.
In the end, it left this critic wanting more. If a pilot can do that, then hopefully subsequent shows will give the depth and distinction that will continue to grab the attention and hearts of viewers. Trusting in the creativity of the creators and writers, combined with the clear ability of the actors, has this critic eagerly waiting for more. If the first episode can accomplish this, then I trust only better shows and more compelling and plausible storylines will follow. Hopefully, The Black Donnellys can, in turn, display the quality and depth that help it transcend into the Sopranos of the network line-up.

Lin Sbordone owned her own technical writing company in Florida for five years before becoming a freelance political journalist under a pseudonym. She currently makes her home near Toronto, Ontario, where she works as both a freelance entertainment correspondent and entertainment publicist. Please express your opinion of The Black Donnellys and bookmark this page through the power of our new Word Press technology!


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