Idol Chatter

With “Studio 60’s” ratings floundering, NBC has decided to up the premiere date of their mafia drama “The Black Donnellys” from Oscar winner Paul Haggis (“Crash,” Million Dollar Baby”) to this Monday evening, taking over “Studio 60’s” timeslot for the rest of the season. I guess the hope is that good-looking people committing crimes in the name of love and loyalty will interest audiences more than good-looking people talking about their love of working in television and their beliefs about the existence of God.

“The Black Donnellys” refers to four Irish boys growing up in a rough neighborhood where the Italian mafia rules the way things are done. The pilot is told in flashback by a childhood buddy, a wiseguy named “Joey Ice Cream,” who is being interrogated by the police about the Donnelly brothers and their involvement in organized crime. Through Joey’s anecdotes we learn why Jimmy Donnelly is a cripple and an alcoholic, why Tommy Donnelly is the good kid of the bunch, and why two specific tragedies lead Tommy to make a choice that sucks him into a life of crime.

I realize that “The Black Donnellys” will automatically suffer by comparison to “The Sopranos”–which can get away with far more risqué material on HBO–but still, the pilot episode is not exceptionally edgy or violent. Instead, it contains oddball humor in the character of Joey, and sets up a star-crossed romance between Tommy and the girl-next-door/childhood sweetheart, Jenny Reilly.

I admit I am not a big fan of mafia dramas in general, never buying the idea that criminal underworld provides this amazing canvas to tell stories of redemption and justice. In the case of “The Black Donnellys,” it doesn’t help that they are replacing a show I have grown fond of. But while I found some of the style and dialogue of the first half of the show a little contrived, where the show shines is in the performance of Jonathon Tucker as Tommy, and in the love story between Tommy and Jenny. Jenny is the moral compass for the Donnelly family but she is fighting a battle for Tommy’s soul that she is unlikely to win. The connection these two characters have remind me of epic lovers in the vein of Romeo and Juliet and was enough to suck me in to watching a few more episodes.

Then again, that’s what I said about Matt and Harriet, and NBC took them away from me, too.

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