Top O’ the mornin’ to ya! Before we get started, let me just say: I got nothing against the Irish. Except that my family is Scottish and my grandpa used to spit when the Irish were mentioned, but that coulda been from all the Haggis. I do not know. I do know that I am suffering from an overindulgence in Haggis. And I don’t mean sheep offal and oats and onions boiled in a stomach. No. I mean something FAR less appetizing.
Namely, Paul Haggis and his new show, the Black Donnellys.
You know there must be a replacement show coming around when I put my bitchy pants on. Actually, I don’t ever take them off. They’re like my superhero leotard; always at the ready. I wore them while battling Studio 60 and I wear them still. And I am badly in need of a phone booth so I can rip open my twee dress shirt to reveal the flaming B carefully stitched onto my chestplate by my elderly, but still spry housekeeper Margaret. Ahhh, Madge. Such a mouth on her! So full of blarney and pluck and tea! She’s Irish, but Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, I think she’ll forgive me for what I’m about to say.
The Black Donnellys is a terrible, terrible show. I don’t know why Paul Haggis even bothered. It’s about these four Irish brothers from Hell’s Kitchen who get caught up in a life of crime. Why? Who knows. Family obligations mostly. They’re not from a terrible neighbourhood. No matter what Paul Haggis would have you believe, Hell’s Kitchen is pretty much gentrified. I think this show might have been more interesting if it were played out in South Boston or Chinatown or something. Asian gangs. Now there’s an interesting world I would like to know more about.
Or maybe if there wasn’t already a movie and a TV show (The Departed and Brotherhood, respectively) that did this better, The Black Donnellys would have a chance. Or maybe it would still suck. Even the NAME is pretentious and offputting when you realize it’s not about the Canadian massacre. If you’re Canadian and you studied history, you likely learned about the real Black Donnellys. ALSO a far more interesting concept for a show. That makes like, two, if you’re counting. But back to the name. What could they have called it instead? Well, Jess and I put our heads together and came up with these:
The Suck of the Irish. Lords of the Dunce. Kick Me, I’m Irish. Erin Go Blech. The Black Donnellyzzzzzzz. Leprechaunz in da Hood. The IRA Took My Babies Away. Faith and Snore-a. Celtic Tiger, Crouching Shamrock. (These are freebies Paul. You like them, you call us for more. For the low-low price of a stolen box of kosher wine, we will get you more punny, Irish headlines.)
But I digress. Much like Aaron Sorkin and Studio 60 before him, Paul Haggis revels in letting us know how very awesome he is. Every second of it is soooo pretentious and WRITTEN. You can practically see Sisyphus shoving this dead weight up the mount. The lack of that is what I love about the crop of “surprise hit” shows this year: How naturally and effortlessly they seem to be evolving. Ugly Betty and Heroes are the two that spring immediately to mind. You can see where the powers that be have given the plots some thought, but they are mainly character-driven shows. They aren’t telegraphing their twists and turns every 20 minutes. And if they do, you kind of forgive them a little because it’s so well done. Besides, Betty is based on a telanovela and Heroes is, for all intents and purposes, a comic book come to life, so I cut them some slack. I do not cut shows with Oscar-winning writers slack. If you’ve got an award of that calibre (however undeserved it is) on your mantle, you should know how to capture and hold my attention.
That’s what makes this so frustrating.
The unreliable narrator character of Joey Ice Cream is stupid. He wasn’t present for most of the conversations we see take place, and if he was, he certainly couldn’t recall them with such detail. Ahhh, but he’s a compulsive liar! And this should make me care… why? Haggis seems to think this is really great and interesting and a “classic narrative device.” I think I don’t know who this fuckup is, but he isn’t cute and he isn’t part of this family, so how the fuck would he know what goes on? I know Haggis won an Oscar, but so did Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner, people. It literally means nothing. It’s kind of unnerving to watch respected reviewers tell me how much I should be enjoying this thrilling TV drama unfold. Because so far, it is boring as all hell. I cannot get into it. And when your show with a credible screenwriter and money and gritty realism is failing to draw in the audience that CSI: Miami gets, you might as well pack it in.
We’ve got Captain Janeway/Mrs. Columbo is the mom and Oz’s Kirk Acevedo is here and good as the eyetalian made guy. But other than that, the cast is mostly unknown and mostly ugly. The actress who plays Jenny Reilly is cute, but she’s made to look very, how you say, put upon and stringy-haired and sad-eyed? Old before her time. I’m sure the fans would call her an old soul. It would be far more interesting if she were a pretty Puerto Rican. Also, if the Irish brothers frequently broke into song and dance routines all “When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way! From your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day!” I’m kidding. Mostly.
And the show itself is repetitive. By that I mean, it repeats itself. By doing the same thing week after week. Again. Some more. Or maybe Irish gangsters really do attend a funeral a week, steal things in slow motion and tell numerous, uninteresting stories about how Whitey/Dokey/Joey Ice Cream got their stupid nick names.
I am also reminded of a rumour I heard that Arcade Fire was asked by producers to use their song Rebellion (Lies) in the pilot. The band refused. Flat out. The producers offered money. Lots of it. But no. Why not? Arcade Fire let Six Feet Under use the song. So surely… no. The band STILL refused. No way, no how. Not for any amount. The show was forced to find other music. Snow Patrol, which is okay, except you know what it’s replacing, so that makes it kind of a poor substitute. Curses! Paul Haggis foiled again! But it makes my love of Arcade Fire that much stronger. Turns out, Funeral wasn’t a fluke. Turns out, Neon Bible is awesome. Turns out, they have taste. Turns out, this show is really, really crappy.
I think it’s the stereotypes that get me. Because if there’s one thing you won’t forget about this show, it’s that MAN are they Orish! You can tell. Cuz they have shamrocks on the bar where they hang out. And they drink. And steal. And gamble. And fight. And eat potatoes. And lucky charms. And pots o’ gold.
There’s Tommy, the one with potential who’s pissing it away (kind of sounds familiar… like this show) and Kevin, the one with the gambling problem (wait, don’t they all have…? Yeah. They do.) then there’s Sean the “hot” one. But he’s just there for people to beat up so the brothers will have a reason to kill people. In their underwear. And finally, there’s the one with the temper and the drinking problem (wait, don’t they all have…? Yeah. Cuz they’re Irish.) Let’s call him Seamus. Because I can’t even be bothered to remember his name and I don’t care enough to look.
And the conflict! Okay, their family is apparently somehow invovled in this Irish gang and there’s a turf war with the Italians and you gotta think that by now, everybody knows the Italians have won. I mean, you don’t hear about the Irish gangs all that much. Or perhaps you do if you are somewhere other than New York. Points off for that too. New York is so easy. This would have been better in dreary Chicago or gritty Boston or scummy Washington.
You wanna talk interesting gangs and allegiances and alliances and loyalties and complex interractions and violence and anger and pathos? Watch The Wire. I BELIEVE those kids haven’t got much of a choice as far as how they live their lives. For them, there is no escaping the drug trade. THESE kids are punk-ass little hoods with no reason for their petty crimes other than they were bored. Which maybe explains why I knocked over a liquor store and knifed a random stranger during a commercial in the last episode.
What gives me heart is that America is not exactly elitist when it comes to TV. They don’t like being told how smart a show is. Especially when that show turns out to be kind of stupid. Witness Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. No, they like guns and hot chicks in bikinis and totally awesome explosions and people who solve crimes with fingerprints and sunsets and sunglasses. And apparently, they love David Caruso. Don’t they? Yes. They do.
At least CSI: Miami revels in its tawdry badness. They give me what I want every week: Shots of hot dudes walking around in the sun and Horatio challenging the sun itself to an arm wrestling competition while muttering some cheesy line about justice for all or vengeance for some. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: Bad TV you know you will watch. Kind of like Ghost Whisperer. I know I knock Jennifer Love Hewitt and her nighties, but it is head and shoulders above this show because at least it’s ENTERTAININGLY bad! I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever thought there would come a day when I would turn the channel from a show about a group of young, ostensibly hot dudes doing stuff to watch David Caruso or Jennifer Love Hewitt, but there you have it. Yeah, I said it. The ULTIMATE backhanded compliment for Caruso and the ultimate diss to Paul Haggis: This show is so bad, I recommend you watch CSI: Miami or Ghost Whisperer instead.