Preview: The Black Donnellys

The Black Donnellys

In the US: NBC, mid-season show

In the UK: Acquired for ITV2. Will debut in the spring.

There is a reason I felt guilty about turning off Angela’s Eyes after only a minute. Although I doubt it would have made a difference in that show’s case, sometimes you’ll come across a programme that is absolute rubbish at first, but which turns out to be a real corker by the end. That is, after all, why I do third-episode verdicts.

The Black Donnellys is one such show. I started watching it last night, and after about ten minutes, I was ready to start extracting some serious urine from it. But I finished watching it this morning, and I have to say the rest of it was riveting.




What’s that?

That was me, last night, punching the TV screen. Why? Well, as you might realise from my surname, there’s a very slight hint of Irish blood in my veins. Only about a milligram, I reckon, but that’s sufficient for me to be sucked into the strange, stereotyped world of The Black Donnellys (first half only).

In this odd place, all Irish people are drunkards who like fights and are involved in petty theft. I know of no actual Irish people like this. But in the US, that’s the stereotype.

In fact, The Black Donnellys points out that it’s a terrible stereotype, just before a fight kicks off. Ah, it’s only funny because it’s so true!


And that’s pretty much the first half. Four Irish-American brothers, growing up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, having hijinks. What a delightful bunch of scallywags these Irish are.




Then 15-20 minutes in, it all gets good. They cross from petty theft to serious crime. Various nasty things occur. Then it becomes organised crime and the real nastiness takes off.

The first episode is co-writen and directed by Crash‘s Paul Haggis and is a definite cut above most TV shows. The direction has a definite cinematic quality and paces itself nicely, even allowing itself time to have lingering shots designed simply to create atmosphere. The acting’s above average and there’s actual characterisation being done. There’s even the nifty device of the ‘unreliable narrator’, which carries a surprise twist at the end. How amazing.

But its biggest problem is lack of real originality. Essentially, we’re talking about an Irish-American version of The Godfather. It’s pretty much the same plot. There are also the obvious comparisons with Brotherhood, which features two Irish-American brothers, one a gangster, one a relatively clean politician. We’re not really getting anything new, at the moment.

I also wonder where the series will take the situations established in this pilot. We’ve already had the “crime mucks things up” message; and we pretty much know where all the different brothers are going to end up in the scheme of things. So the second episode had better take us somewhere we haven’t been before, if this is to avoid just being ‘The O’Godfather’.

Nevertheless, if you can make it through the first half, this is really worth watching.

Here’s the official site and here’s a trailer via the NBC video preview system: you’ll need to select “NBC First Look”; I wouldn’t recommend it though since it spoils everything.


Jonathan Tucker (Tommy Donnelly)

Tom Guiry (Jimmy Donnelly)

Olivia Wilde (Jenny Reilly)

Keith Nobbs (Joey “Ice Cream”)

Billy Lush (Kevin Donnelly)

Michael Stahl-David (Sean Donnelly)

Kirk Acevedo (Nicky Cottero)


NBC Universal Television Studio

Executive Producer/Director/Writer

Paul Haggis Crash, Million Dollar Baby

Executive Producer/Writer

Bobby Moresco Crash, Million Dollar Baby

Executive Producer

Mark Harris Crash


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

    View all posts