Monday, February 26, 2007

Brothers without Pants

This morning's column reviews "The Black Donnellys":

Coming into his new NBC drama "The Black Donnellys," Paul Haggis has two Oscars, plenty of clout and James Bond at his side. But he doesn't have Pants, and that's a problem.

"Donnellys," a drama about four Irish-American brothers who get in and out of trouble in an unnamed New York neighborhood, is essentially Haggis' attempt to redo "EZ Streets." A potboiler starring Ken Olin, Jason Gedrick and Hoboken's own Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano, "EZ Streets" aired for a few months on CBS in the '96-'97 season, with its audience composed largely of adoring TV critics.

Haggis didn't have the muscle to keep "EZ Streets" on the air back then, but thanks to "Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash" and "Casino Royale" and the 12 dozen big-ticket movies he's either writing or script-doctoring at the moment, he was able to try something similar with a younger cast. The shows share a grand visual style, generous use of Celtic music on the soundtrack, and a mix of black comedy and operatic tragedy. Haggis even admitted recently that when he first pitched "Donnellys" to CBS back in '96, Les Moonves grumbled, "Hold on, I just canceled this show."

To read the full thing, click here.

21 comments:

mp said...

You have Tom Guiry's character's name as "Tommy", but per imdb it's "Jimmy".

Anonymous said...

I really thought this pilot was a cliched mess. I'm also surprised by your praise of Jonathan Tucker. I think he's miscast in the role and attempts to come off as tough by making contorted facial expressions. I'm also not surprised to hear this was originally intended as a period piece as it bears no relationship whatsoever to modern day New York. (One review I saw actually said that it WAS a period piece.) I think that's a huge problem for the show as they're obviously going for gritty "realism." And I actually laughed at one point when I saw a street sign in the background that placed the Donnelly brothers in East Harlem. I'm sure that neighborhood had the look the creators were going for, but it's also not an area these kids would ever be hanging out in.

Anonymous said...

FYI Alan: Tom Guiry is from Hamilton, NJ.

Matt said...

NBC has just had an awful year, it seems, with the exception of "Heroes." "FNL" and "30 Rock" are critical faves, but can't get an audience. "Kidnapped" and "20 Good Years" were out and out disasters, the L&O franchise has lost A LOT of luster, and Studio 60 is, at best, a disappointment for them critically and commercially. (The resurgance of "ER" and their ability to get decent ratings with no-cost programming like DOND and 1 vs. 100 are minimal bright spots as well.)

SJ said...

Mob dramas cannot be done on network TV imo. Maybe it's because "The Sopranos" and "Brotherhood" have spoiled me, but mob dramas are supposed to have something really sinister, dark about them, something which network TV can not provide.


This show will die in 3 weeks.

Anonymous said...

Hi, long time reader, first time poster. EZ Streets was an incredibly good series that died before its time. So if Donnelly's is anything like it thats a good thing in my book. I must admit when I first heard about the series it struck me how it did sound like EZ Streets redone.

Heather K said...

Also, Guiry is Smalls from "The Sandlot" I wouldn't exactly call that unknown (dripping with some sarcasm there, but I do love him from sandlot and my misspent youth).

velvetcannibal said...

I enjoyed your review, and I hope people don't dismiss this show right away. The fact is, most of us did not see EZ Streets, and frankly I was too young for that kind of show in '96. Mob dramas on network tv are rare enough that I want this show to have a chance.

The voiceover device worked really well for me, precisely because of the way they used it. You're right, we don't know how much is truth or fiction, and events are altered by perception.

The shooting was cinematic and gave the world a different feel than I expected. The acting was fine, for now. I can never really judge by the pilot because I'm too busy getting to know the roles. Maybe later someone will bug me. I like that these characters aren't idiots. I mean, Jimmy does stupid things but he expects the consequences he deserves. And when something's about to go down, like the car pulling up next to baby brother, there are no stupid moments of confusion. Everyone in the scene knows exactly what's happening.

I'll definitely be back next week. This was different and engaging, and I don't have to pay to see it. It was sufficiently dark with a high body count, but the lighter moments made sense too. Not a rave review from me, but I was more than entertained.

Very smart programming move to not have commercials until 30 minutes in, too.

velvetcannibal said...

I do have to add that if this show goes all coincidence crazy, like Crash, which really annoyed the hell out of me, then I'll be pissed. I felt like the revelation at the end was earned and set up well, but in future episodes I don't want everything to "be connected" in some stupid way to give false depth.

kristinj said...

EZ Streets is among my favorite shows despite its brief run, so I walked into this one with cautious optimism. It exceeded my (modest) expectations, which I never thought possible because those NBC promos have driven me nutty.

I don't expect realism from Paul Haggis; the mere thought sends me into fits of laughter. But enough worked for me here - including how great it looks - that I'm willing to be patient and see if TBD comes into its own.

Even knowing that a "twist" ending was coming, I liked how it played out. I read the pilot as first edited had Arcade Fire's "Rebellion" in the last scene, and even without seeing that finished product I think it was a pretty huge loss for the episode. The song used just didn't add enough suspense.

Dan Coyle said...

Well, after 10 minutes I decided to switch channels and watch a more subtle and nuanced character piece, you may have heard of it: WWE RAW.

Dark Tyler said...

I'm shocked to say I didn't hate it.

Of course I expect the narration to continue explaining every single detail and every single emotion to the stupid viewer (thank you, Paul Haggis) as the weeks go by, and I expect more coincidences to emerge and form a HaggisVerse Plan, but I have to admit that it was nowhere near the crapness of Crash.

Of course what I saw was the original pilot, with the Arcade Fire song playing during the climax (cool twist, too) and it's probably impossible for anyone to produce uncool stuff over Arcade Fire, so I'm not sure how the final product was.

I'm giving it some more chances, though. Now, that's a twist.

Niffer said...

Overall, I liked it. I wasn't even thinking of Crash when I decided to watch it. Instead, I was drawn to it because of Haggis's work on "EZ Streets" and "Due South."

Heather K said...

The final product had a snow patrol song.

I watch Heroes (and used to watch S60), so I will probably be back next week kind of out of habit and kind of because I didn't hate it.

SJ said...

For me the highlight was seeing Frank Sobotka from "The Wire" again. I have hardly seen any of his other work.

And one of the Italian goons turned out to be Christopher (from The Sopranos) idiot sponsor. He was also in Rescue Me last season as an officer of the jail.

Also, the two main Italians (the old guy who got shot in the end and the other one who beat up the Irish brother) were both on Oz, though the older guy was on the Italian mafia and the other guy was in one of the Latino gangs.

Matt said...

So, after this completely tanked (pilot's ratings were comparable to Studio 60's most recent ratings), how long does NBC stick with it? I assume another week or two, to see if the Oprah special hurt them much, but I expect we'll be seeing Studio 60 back quickly.

Dark Tyler said...

Thank God the Donnellys tanked. Studio was faulty, but compared to this it was like The West Wing.

dez said...

And one of the Italian goons turned out to be Christopher (from The Sopranos) idiot sponsor. He was also in Rescue Me last season as an officer of the jail.

Wasn't that the same guy who plays Squatch on "The Knights of Prosperity"?

I liked the pilot enough to tune in next week (or rather, DVR it and watch it Tuesday night).

Alan Sepinwall said...

same guy, Dez. He vanishes after the pilot because of his committments to "Knights."

Undercover Black Man said...

What kind of a ripoff is this? How can they call a show "The Black Donnells," and there isn't one black guy named Donnell in it??

Anonymous said...

Looked beautiful, liked the soundtrack, was somewhat amused by the narrator, but the actors playing the Donnelly brothers are so miscast. Not one of the four can convey the kind of hair-trigger incipient danger that four punks capable of taking down both the Irish and Italian mob bosses have to carry with them. Where O where are James Dean and Marlon when you need them?