Last night, NBC premiered its newest series, The Black Donnellys. The drama, scripted by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco (both of Crash fame, among other places), centers around the four brothers in the Donnelly family: Tommy, Jimmy, Kevin, and Sean. As with most sets of brothers (or siblings in general) the Donnelly boys don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.
Raised in a strictly working class neighborhood, the boys grew up committing small crimes (stealing ice cream bins and the like) and eventually graduated to higher orders of legal problems. Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) is at the center of the show, and is the Donnelly boy that’s trying to go straight. Some of Tommy’s brothers however, most notably Jimmy (Tom Guiry), are not interested in such a life. Jimmy has drug problems and has no compunction about committing various crimes (including stealing a truck full of Hawaiian shirts). Kevin (Billy Lush) is the gambler of the family. Kevin will tag along with Jimmy on the crimes, but feels associated with Tommy as well. Then there’s Sean (Michael Stahl-David); he’s the baby of the family and the one with the good looks.
As the pilot opens, it seems as though Kevin owes thousands of dollars to a bookie. Over the course of the episode, Jimmy and Kevin concoct and execute a plan to kidnap the bookie and hold him for ransom. This bad idea turns out to be an even worse one when it is found out that the bookie’s related to an Italian mob boss. The boss goes after the Donnelly boys, and Sean ends up in the hospital. Jimmy, hothead that he is, shoots the bookie. The local Irish mob sells out Jimmy to the Italian mob, but Tommy is smart enough to recognize the double-cross. By the end of the first episode the Donnellys have taken out the heads of the Irish and Italian mobs in the neighborhood and have become, by default, the new bosses. For better or worse, it looks like Tommy is going to have a hard time staying on the straight and narrow at this point.
The entire episode is narrated as a series of flashbacks by Joey “Ice Cream” (Keith Nobbs) as he sits in jail and is making some sort of deal with the police. The writing is both dark and serious yet somehow funny at the same time. The Donnellys clearly have a lot to learn about running an organized crime family, and a lot of internal dysfunctions to work out as well.
The pilot was shot with great style and was wonderful to watch unfold. At some point all mob stories feel as though they’ve been done before, this one with shades of The Godfather as well as more recent The Sopranos-type stuff thrown in. Even so, the show certainly seems to have enough nuances, ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs, and interesting characters to certainly hold viewer interest for a while.
I’ve certainly thought before that certain shows would be successful that later turned into huge flops, but, if the writing of Donnellys can maintain the level that existed in the pilot, hopefully good things will happen.