The Black Donnellys: Paul Haggis doesn’t care about white people, character development. Tuesday, March 6, 2007Posted by Holly in Black Donnellys, hatchet jobs, Holly/Magnolia, TV.
True story: I heard one of those breathlessly excited radio ads yesterday proclaiming The Black Donnellys to be “Television’s Newest Drama!” That’s the best recommendation the NBC promotional department could concoct for its own show. This one commercial makes my point so well that I could probably stop right there…but where’s the fun in that?
I got a lot of emails last week asking me why I was so hard on the show. Most of them ran to the faint-praise standby of, “It’s not so bad”. If it makes you feel any better, the network seems to agree, but allow me to retort with this handy list of Everything That’s Wrong With The Black Donnellys, So Far:
- The lighting (or lack thereof). They haven’t got enough in the way of actual plot points and character development to make things mysterious-like, so they’ve equated “dark” with “edgy” and turned the dial up to eleven.
- …and because it’s too dark to see, we’re given big white arrows to identify characters as they’re re-introduced by a narrator with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, whose voice makes me want to puncture my own eardrums with a shiv.
- The sound mixing’s terrible, with ambient sounds that have no place being so loud drowning out much of the dialogue.
- …which isn’t so bad, on second thought, because when have to I rewind three times to decipher the lines I missed, only to discover the writers have devoted a paragraph to a tortured, literal interpretation of the phrase ‘bad blood”, I realize that a lot of the show is better left unheard.
- A frame story is not a frame story unless it’s, well, a story, and we’ve got no advances in the Ice-Cream-Interrogation sub”plot” this week. (Which I guess is an advantage….see above re: shiv.) Right now it’s just a cheap excuse for the most annoying character in a show teeming with annoying characters to play Exposition Fairy, and I’m not buying it.
- The credits! Have gunshots! For all the names! Because this is a show about violence! I wouldn’t have picked up on that! Thank goodness I heard the gunshots in the credits!
- I touched last week on the unbearable overdone-ness of the I-love-my-unattainable-childhood-sweetheart device, but I missed the fact that her name is Jenny until now. Jenny. Of course it is. That’s just the cherry on the half-melted sundae. It’s only a matter of time before we’re introduced to Smitty and Sully. Next week I’ll be handing out Black Donnellys Character Name Bingo cards.
- Seriously, how many scenes are they going to stage in front of the damn vending machine? Did they get a monthly rate on that hallway?
- Playing out the line on the relationship between Tommy and Jenny might have been a source of actual tension, but no. My only genuine laugh of the night came when Jenny got out of bed and muttered, “I can’t.” Well, honey, not to spoil any surprises headed your way in health class, but you just did. (I’m not entirely sure this was meant to be funny.)
- I am, however, sure that this was meant to be funny: Guy doesn’t want to burn his jacket! His jacket covered in a murdered man’s blood! Because it’s his favorite! Black Donnellys: Laff Riot!
- Huey’s brother? The guy from The Usual Suspects? Looks like Celine Dion, and that’s not helping.
- When Tommy kicked Kevin out on the sidewalk, it wasn’t to go pick up Jenny. Taking her out for a night on the town in an entrail-soaked van would have redeemed this show entirely for me in a matter of minutes. Also, the van did not appear to explode when lit on fire, but I think we can safely say that was a budgetary decision.
- The structure of the Irish and Italian organized crime elements is sloppy and full of holes. Are we supposed to accept that there are only six mobsters in Hell’s Kitchen?
- You know, to be perfectly fair, this is exactly the sort of dialogue one would expect to hear from the writer of Crash:
You couldn’t get a bigger barrel?
They don’t make bigger barrels.
How’d it go?
I didn’t have any control. My hands and my legs.
Mamet trembles. But the writing’s not the biggest problem. All of these lines are being delivered in uninflected monotone, without any conviction or recognition of the magnitude of the events unfolding before them. We’ve seen nothing so far to make us believe that the brothers’ blase attidude towards their own actions is in any way plausible. There’s no background here, no history, nothing to prove to us that the Donnellys have earned the right to scoff at death, unless the writers are paving the way for a genuine sociopathy subplot, and I don’t think they’re that clever. Tommy, spitting in the water after they dump the body, is acting in a manner that’s entirely contrary to everything we’ve been asked to accept about his character so far. If he was always this hardened, we should’ve seen evidence of that in the pilot or the frame story. They’ve already got the narrator crutch; why not use it? And if the spitting is meant to instead signify a turning point in the evolution of Tommy, it’s a cheap, contrived method, even for this show.
Of course, nothing I’ve seen up to this point makes me expect anything more. The Donnellys are who we thought they were.