The Black Donnellys
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
Well, it’s been a while and it’s a little late, but here is another installment of my world renowned ‘First Impressions,’ article. This review comes as somewhat of a bittersweet opportunity for me. The Black Donnellys is a new series, originally slated for a 2006 release, but was pushed back to mid-season replacement status when another favorite—but ultimately doomed—show of mine, Studio 60, was cancelled. If anyone has read my previous First Impression reviews, you will know that I was a big fan of Studio 60 and was greatly saddened to hear of its passing. And even though I can’t help but wonder whether Studio 60 was slated to be removed no matter what to make room for the Black Donnellys, I was nonetheless intrigued enough by the premise to give it a chance.
The show follows the lives of the brothers Donnelly, four black-Irish youths in a tough New York neighborhood. The main character is Tommy Donnelly (Jonathan Tucker), ‘the good one,’ of the family who is desperately trying to get his life together. The only problem is that his three brothers, Jimmy (Tom Guiry), Kevin (Billy Lush), and Sean (Michael Stahl-David), are troublemakers in the neighborhood and Tommy is constantly running interference for them and bailing them out of trouble.
The first show is told as a narrative from the point of view of Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs) a purported friend of the Donnellys who is currently incarcerated and being interrogated by the police. They want to know the location of the ‘bodies,’ and Joey is all to eager to run his mouth about whatever bit of gossip he knows. Through Joey we learn about the struggle the brothers faced when Jimmy’s drug addiction and Kevin’s gambling debt caused Jimmy to kidnap the nephew of an Italian crime boss to hold for ransom. The Italian boss sends two of his boys to get his nephew back and they end up beating the youngest Donnelly, Sean, nearly to death. Jimmy, high and enraged, kills his hostage in retribution.
Now the Donnellys face the wrath of the Italians and they must ban together to protect their family. But with dwindling allies and danger lurking in every corner, the brothers must make some hard choices and Tommy, especially must decide whether to go forward with the life he’d set up from himself, or become what he’d never wanted to become.
I absolutely loved this show and I see nothing but promise for its future. I hate the fact that it replaced Studio 60, but I don’t think I could have picked a better, more engaging successor. Where Studio 60 was intelligent and quippy, The Black Donnellys was action packed, emotional and—at times—darkly humorous. It’s a mafia show for people who love mafia films, and a family drama for those who love conflict and richly interesting characters. And 60 Studio fans who were just itching for that Jordan/Danny romance to bloom, look forward to even more tumultuous dynamic between Tommy and his love-interest, Jenny Reilly (Olivia Wilde), his childhood crush and neighborhood bartender. With Tommy’s involvement with his brother holding him back and her estranged—dead-husband no where to be found, the two have more than enough issues to work out to keep things interesting for quite a while. So in short, watch the show, it’ll be well worth it if you can deal with the loss of Studio 60 and if not, watch it—don’t blame the Irish.