Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 9 hours, 31 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Subtitles: English (closed captioned for the hearing-impaired)
The short-lived television series The Black Donnellys is a good candidate for the designation “Brilliant but Cancelled.” The brainchild of Oscar winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), the show is endowed with superior writing, an excellent cast and high production values. Nevertheless, The Black Donnellys failed to find an audience and was cancelled by NBC after only six episodes were aired. The remaining seven episodes were streamed on NBC’s website, and the entire series was later shown (and continues to be shown) on HDNet. Now all thirteen episodes are available on DVD.
The Black Donnellys tells the story of four Irish-American brothers – Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), Jimmy (Tom Guiry), Kevin (Billy Lush) and Sean (Michael Stahl-David) – who grew up in a rough neighborhood in New York City. A decades-long turf war between Irish-American and Italian-American mobsters led to the murder of their father, Bobby Donnelly, who was beaten to death. The story of the brothers is told in flashbacks by “Joey Ice Cream” (Keith Nobbs), a life-long Donnelly wannabe who would like to be a tough guy but who in reality is more of a hanger-on and freeloader. Joey has been picked up by the police, and he spills the beans about the Donnellys to the cops and to his attorney.
Tommy, we learn, is the sensible Donnelly who aspires to be an artist but finds himself spending much of his time getting his brothers out of trouble. Jimmy, who is impetuous and has a substance-abuse problem, owns a bar called the Firecracker Lounge which he won in a game of craps. Kevin is an inveterate gambler who is berated by Tommy for losing bets on jai-alai, a game which Kevin doesn’t even understand. Sean, the youngest, is a handsome, easy-going young man who is irresistible to women. The romantic interest is provided by Jenny Reilly (Olivia Wilde), who has been infatuated with Tommy since childhood.
In the pilot episode, Kevin owes thousands of dollars to a bookie known as “Louie Downtown.” After the hijacking of a truck in the New York City garment district fails to raise the cash needed to pay the debt, Jimmy makes the dubious decision to kidnap the bookie and hold him for ransom. Unfortunately, it turns out that the bookie is the nephew of Sal Minetta (Mark Margolis), the local Italian-American boss. Sal’s lieutenant, Nicky Cottero (Kirk Acevedo), chafes at the idea that the Irish-American mobsters still have any presence in the area and he seizes upon the kidnapping as an opportunity to deal a fatal blow to the competition.
The Black Donnellys is nearly as violent as The Sopranos and was probably better-suited to a cable network such as HBO or Showtime. In fact, there are whispers that the show may find new life on a cable network, but that remains to be seen.
This is a complete list of all thirteen episodes:
2. A Stone of the Heart
3. God is a Comedian
4. The World Will Break Your Heart
6. Run Like Hell
7. The Only Thing Sure
8. In Each One a Savior
9. All of Us Are in the Gutter
10. When The Door Opens
11. Wasn't That Enough?
12. The Black Drop
13. Easy Is The Way
For reasons unknown to me, episode #3, “God is a Comedian,” never aired on NBC. That omission may have created continuity issues for viewers. Nevertheless, it has been included in proper sequence on the DVD set and also is being aired on HDNet.
I found The Black Donnellys to be extremely entertaining and involving. Viewers who take in all thirteen episodes will undoubtedly be left wishing for more, but the show is well worth watching even if no additional shows are ever made.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is very satisfying. The show was shot on film, and with the absence of commercials it gives the viewer the feeling of watching a movie. Much of the action takes place at night or in dark interiors, but shadow detail is quite good. The colors are deliberately muted, giving the show an appropriately gritty look. All of the exterior scenes were filmed on location in the New York metropolitan area. Universal has done an excellent job of transferring this show to DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivers a lot of punch for a television show. The dialogue is always intelligible, and the surround channels are effectively used to provide dimensionality. The series uses music very well and it always sounds terrific. Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco have a great deal of experience in filmmaking and they brought that experience to bear while they were making The Black Donnellys.
This is a bare-bones presentation with no supplemental materials, other than one deleted scene from episode #3. It would have been nice if Universal had at least included some information about the cast, especially since most of the lead actors are young and may not be familiar to many viewers.
The menu allows the choice of playing all episodes or selecting individual episodes. There is no ability to select scenes from individual episodes. The set also includes some promos for other Universal TV shows which are available on DVD.
The thirteen episodes are spread over three discs. The packaging is similar to other Universal TV shows, with one disc on the left side of the keepcase and two overlapping discs on the right side. The keepcase comes inside a slipcase. The front artwork is the same on both the slipcase and the keepcase.
The Final Analysis
With all the mediocre, unoriginal programming we see on network television, it is a shame when a fairly original and extremely well-produced series such as The Black Donnellys fails to get decent ratings. My only caveat is that if you enjoy the show as much as I did, you may end up being disappointed that this is all of The Black Donnellys that we are likely to see.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA2 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: September 4, 2007