23 Shows You Should Be Watching: No. 19, The Black Donnellys
Synopsis: Four Irish brothers find themselves awash in crime, drinking, brawling, gunplay, and broken hearts. It sounds like Stereotype Hell…but somehow it both embraces and transcends these well-traveled streets.
Why You Should Watch: Because it combines humor and violence, hope and hopelessness in a near-perfect balance that you don’t often see on television. Most shows trying to balance on that line — The Shield, say, or Rescue Me — tilt too far in one direction or the other. The only reason The Black Donnellys is ranked this low is that we’re only three episodes into the series — there’s plenty of time for it to move up the list.
Key Scene: At the end of the first episode, Tommy Donnelly realizes that the Italian mob is going to kill his brother Jimmy for kidnapping one of their bookies. So Tommy, until now a law-abiding guy, ices the head of the local Italian family — and, for good measure, the head of the Irish family who was there to sell Jimmy out.
Key Quote: “He could have made it out, only he was never gonna let his brother get hurt again. And so Tommy became everything he never wanted. And whether he realized it or not, with Huey dead, Tommy’d just taken over the neighborhood.” –Joey Ice Cream, friend of the brothers, recounting in an interrogation what Tommy did to the mobsters.
Key Quote 2: “Not those bodies.” –One of the detectives, after Joey Ice Cream had told the hour-long story of Tommy’s descent into the abyss. The episode began with the detective asking, “Where are the bodies?” and ended with the detective belting the camera — Joey’s POV — with a telephone book.
Fun fact: The series was originally titled “The Truth According To Joey Ice Cream.” Thankfully, that horrific title didn’t survive to the second draft.
Fun fact 2: You can watch all the old episodes, plus an ultra-violent “web only” episode too rough for TV, by going to NBC’s Black Donnellys site. Enjoy!