TV Review: New NBC series tests tolerance for dark drama

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There is much to recommend about NBC's "The Black Donnellys," (10 p.m. Monday, replacing "Studio 60," which NBC says will return "later in the season"), but this family underworld drama comes with some hefty strings attached.

   
'The Black Donnellys'

When: 10 p.m. Monday, NBC.
Starring: Jonathan Tucker.

   

If you're looking for a black and white show about heroes and villains, steer clear ...

If you want to see something light and upbeat, do not tune in ...

If you're bothered by violence and sexuality, avoid this show ...

On the other hand, if you enjoy complex, murky dramas about morally ambiguous characters, played by a talented cast of newcomers, then enjoy "The Black Donnellys" while it lasts, because I can't imagine it will be around for long. This show seems pretty incompatible with "Heroes," its lead-in.

Created by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, the team behind the short-lived 1996 underworld CBS drama "EZ Streets" and the Oscar-winning screenplay for "Crash," "The Black Donnellys" follows a working-class New York Irish family of brothers who get involved in organized crime.

This week's premiere, directed by Haggis, efficiently and clearly establishes the story of the four Donnelly brothers told through the half-truths of imprisoned weasel Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs).

Good boy Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), who won't remain pure for long, pines for Jenny Reilly (Olivia Wilde) as he tries to walk the straight and narrow, even as his brothers get themselves in trouble, especially Jimmy (Thomas Guiry), who still limps from a childhood accident (shown in flashbacks).

Baby brother Sean (Michael Stahl-David) is the lady's man of the clan and gambler Kevin (Billy Lush) kicks off the story. His debts spiral into a situation that leaves several people dead and one Donnelly brother clinging to life.

In future episodes, the Donnellys square off against Italian-American mobster thug Nicky Cottero (Kirk Acevedo) while praying at the bedside of the wounded Donnelly, alongside their mother (Kate Mulgrew, "Star Trek: Voyager").

"The Black Donnellys" certainly has some humor and lighter moments, but it is, at heart, a gangland saga, making it a relatively dark show that's airing at a time when viewers have rejected dark shows right and left.

For those who do tune in, the performances of the largely unknown cast, especially standout Tucker, will keep their attention rapt.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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