'The Black Donnellys'
After lackluster ratings and an about-face by TV critics (excluding me), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has not only been benched but pulled early to make room for a new crime drama, The Black Donnellys. At least Studio 60's replacement comes from pedigreed writers and executive producers Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby) and Bobby Moresco (Crash). Haggis wrote and directed the pilot episode.
Before some of you start moaning about how the mighty have fallen, let me remind you that before collecting all those Oscar statues, Haggis cut his teeth as a TV writer. According to some critics, his short-lived EZ Streets (1996) was the forerunner to The Sopranos. A laudable entry into the mob drama genre, The Black Donnellys comes with a powerful twist: a somewhat unreliable narrator who not only brings humor but refreshes a familiar premise.
The show tells the story of how four Irish brothers became the crime lords of their neighborhood, through a series of almost absurd gaffs and schemes. Absurd, until you realize who is telling the story: a petty thief and pathological liar named Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs). Holding court in his prison scrubs, he tells two detectives the story of the Donnelly brothers' childhood and rise to power. Joey claims to be everywhere the brothers are, to know their inner thoughts and motivations. His reverence for all things Donnelly makes him both a suspect and compassionate outsider. As storyteller, Joey appeals to audiences drawn to the romantic notion of the crime family, even when their actions are deplorable. But Haggis makes Joey do double duty, using him as a jester/Greek chorus. Through Joey, Haggis makes viewers understand, in a meticulous and heartfelt way, how the Donnelly brothers came to be. The result is less romantic than Joey would like, which is part of what makes the use of the character brilliant. No, the Donnelly story has much more sting than Joey admits. At first, this seems to be mainly the case with Tommy Donnelly (Jonathan Tucker), whose original plans to attend art school are squashed when he's forced to correct a boneheaded stunt by his older brother, Jimmy (Tom Guiry). But Jimmy has his own demons, which revisit him in the first episode.
Completing the Donnelly foursome are Billy Lush as the third-born brother and wingman, Kevin, and Michael Stahl-David as Sean, the youngest of the brood. Making a brief but hopefully expanded appearance in future episodes is Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) as the Donnelly matriarch, Helen. The divine Olivia Wilde (The OC) returns as a natural brunette as Jenny Reilly, a family friend and Tommy's love interest.
The Black Donnellys premieres Monday, Feb. 26, at 9pm on NBC.
What Else Is On?
Film Independent's Spirit Awards air on Saturday. Austin is once again represented, as two films with local ties are nominated for the John Cassavetes Award: Chalk (D: Mike Akel) and Old Joy (D: Kelly Reichardt, produced by Austinite Anish Savjani). The Cassavetes Award goes to the best feature film made for less than $500,000. The Austin Film Society is hosting a viewing party at Ringer's Sports Lounge, 415 Colorado, on Saturday, but if you want to watch it plopped on your couch, it airs on the IFC at 4pm. Sarah Silverman hosts. For more information on the AFS viewing party, call 322-0145. For all things Spirit Awards, go to www.spiritawards.com.
The Academy Awards are doled out on Sunday night at 7pm on ABC. Ellen Degeneres hosts.
Tonight, Thursday, Feb. 22, Rory Kennedy's documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, premieres at 8:30pm on HBO... George Lopez: America's Mexican premieres Saturday night at 9pm on HBO... The next episode of Special Session is a tribute to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards: Sunday, 11am, PBS... The painstakingly produced and enormously troubling, four-part Frontline series, News War, continues with third segment "What's Happening to the News," on Feb. 27 at 8pm, and final segment "Stories From a Small Planet" on March 27 at 8pm, all on PBS. Find additional airdates at www.klru.org. And the entire series can be viewed online at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newswar/view.