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The Black Donnellys, “A Stone of the Heart” (1.02)

“It’s not easy watching people suffer.” – Helen Donnelly

The show is about a black Irish family living in New York – Hell’s Kitchen, to be precise. Four brothers and those who surround them, doing petty crime and trying to stay alive.The show is narrated by Joey “Ice Cream” (Keith Nobbs), and focuses the Donnelly brothers: Kevin (Billy Lush), Tommy (Johnathan Tucker), Jimmy (Tom Guiry) and ‘little’ Sean (Michael Stahl-David), plus Jenny Reilly (Olivia Wilde), a perpetual fellow of the boys whose romantic tension with Tommy has been going on since they were kids.

I found the pilot of this 2006 show to be better than I remembered. Does that shift in quality hold? Some thoughts about the episode, written by Kim Clements and Paul Haggis, and directed by Paul Haggis, after the jump:

The episode is largely a follow-up on the events of the pilot, with Tommy forced to clean up everyone’s respective messes.  After everything – hiding Hugh’s body and placating the new head of the Italians – he finally sleeps with Jenny, only for her to tell him that she can’t ever see him in a romantic fashion. Tommy’s life is quickly becoming a series of Sisyphian tasks, with each action to help his brothers leading to worse and worse consequences, and nobody else can handle the pressure. Jenny withdraws from him when she sees the journey he’s on, and poor dumb Kevin is too weak to help him dispose of the body, so we’re left with the image of a grim, naked Tommy breaking a body with a sledgehammer, with his brother cowering feet away.

My big issue with this episode is that the lightness of touch from the pilot’s opening half is pretty much gone. There are few laughs in this dark episode, and the unrelenting grimness is pretty difficult to watch. Also, the music largely feels like it belongs on Grey’s Anatomy, which wrecks the tone for a lot of the bigger scenes in the episode. When Tommy is so frustrated and angry all of the time, not even getting to enjoy his time with Jenny, it makes it difficult – especially when the show’s lightest characters, Sean and Joey, are in the hospital and removed from the story respectively.

It seems they’re running with Joey as a continuing narrator. I’m not sure what their plans are, but this means they’re going to be running two different timelines here, and we’ll have to see if everything all adds up. While I like some of the hints that give us a greater picture of how things turn out, I’m not terribly sure that it doesn’t weaken the narrative a little, and it ignores some potential to lighten what ends up a relentlessly grim episode. I know the events here don’t really play to comedy, but I hope future installments get a little bit of lightheartedness, if only to deepen the darkness.

We’ll see if the show’s exhausting bleakness will abate, or whether I’ll become accustomed to it. Either way, for what it does, it does it very well.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by White Collar, The Signal. The Signal said: The Black Donnellys, “A Stone of the Heart” (1.02): http://wp.me/pPG85-gj […]

  2. […] of cancelled shows, potentially including The Black Donnellys (episode reviews for 1.01 and 1.02), American Gothic, Karen Sisco, Aliens in America, and Touching Evil, among others. Expect either […]

  3. […] Donnelly family in the “Pilot”, then the show abandoned all pretense of lightness for “A Stone of the Heart”. Part of me hopes “God is a Comedian” will reverse that trend, but considering it was […]

  4. […] Donnelly family in the “Pilot”, then the show abandoned all pretense of lightness for “A Stone of the Heart”. Part of me hopes “God is a Comedian” will reverse that trend, but considering it was […]



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