The Black Donnellys, “Pilot” (1.01)

“The Irish have always been victims of negative stereotyping. I mean, people think we’re all drunks and brawlers, and sometimes it makes you so mad you just wanna get drunk and punch somebody.” – Joey “Ice Cream”

First up on Rerun Time’s roulette is the pilot of The Black Donnellys, a 2006 drama starring Jonathan Tucker and Olivia Wilde. Was the show a one-season wonder, or a complete flop? Some thoughts about the pilot, written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, and directed by Paul Haggis, after the jump:

The show is about black Irish 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. We’re first introduced to perpetual hanger-on Joey “Ice Cream” (Keith Nobbs), the pilot’s narrator, as he’s interrogated by the police about the location of ‘the bodies’. He gives us the rundown of the Donnellys: Kevin (Billy Lush), Tommy (Johnathan Tucker), Jimmy (Tom Guiry) and ‘little’ Sean (Michael Stahl-David), plus Jenny Reilly, a perpetual fellow of the boys whose romantic tension with Tommy has been going on since they were kids.

He gives us the rundown: Jimmy, who runs the bar, having won it in a game of cards; pretty-boy Kevin, who considers himself a lucky gambler despite his continuous losses; the put-upon Tommy, who spends his time saving the asses of his siblings to the detriment of his hopes in art; and baby Sean, who charms the pants off of every woman he meets. And Jenny, all-grown up, is married to a crooked teacher who is long-dead, only nobody’s gotten around to telling her about it. Though I enjoy the characters once I’ve gotten a sense of them, I doubt I’d have been able to keep track without keeping score for this review (and Joey’s helpful, if pervasive, voiceovers).

This pilot is an odd duck, and I think I like the trick it pulls. The first half has a fair dose of humour, and its a lot of fun, with the bulk of it coming from Joey and his narration. Here, the show plays more tricks with unreliable narration than How I Met Your Mother does in whole seasons. A particular sequence, with Joey placing an even in three different years, was a highlight. However, in admist the humour it makes sure you understand the grimness of this world, which is a good thing: once you’re through the early ‘who is everyone?’ phase and can follow the plot, the humour disappears and it becomes a really tense drama. And it works, largely, though I can’t help but feel like this would have made a better movie.

I like the characters, even as they’re deeply flawed. Tommy’s a very interesting protagonist, caught between familiar duty mixed with a healthy dollop of guilt and a potentially happy future. The brothers all make enough of a mark to matter. Jenny’s alright, but Olivia Wilde was doing most of the lifting here, as her character is largely based around her relationship to Jimmy. That said, she nails her part in the dramatic sequence at the end. I’m most familiar with Kirk Acevedo from his later role as Fringe‘s straight-laced Charlie Francis, which makes it all the more surprising and enjoyable to see him playing a slimy badass here.

It’s a shame Arcade Fire blocked the use of “Rebellion (Lies)” for that ending, even though I respect their artistic right to do so. Snow Patrol doesn’t have the same wallop. Either way, though, it ends on a very strong note, and I find myself wanting to see a second episode.

3 Responses to “The Black Donnellys, “Pilot” (1.01)”
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  1. […] episodes 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 […]

  2. […] on The Black Donnellys: We got introduced to the Donnelly family in the “Pilot”, then the show abandoned all pretense of lightness for “A Stone of the Heart”. Part of […]

  3. […] on The Black Donnellys: We got introduced to the Donnelly family in the “Pilot”, then the show abandoned all pretense of lightness for “A Stone of the Heart”. Part of […]

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