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Series / The Black Donnellys

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"There's two things you gotta know about the Irish. I forget the first."
Joey Ice Cream

Pay attention this time. I hate repeating myself.

A short-lived 2007 NBC drama created by Paul Haggis that consists of 13 episodes. Six were actually aired on the network; the other seven were only released online (and subsequently DVD).

The Black Donnellys follows four young Irish-American brothers in New York who get involved in organized crime, with varying degrees of intent. When Kevin can't pay off a gambling debt, his brother Jimmy helps him kidnap the Italian bookie in hopes that the ransom money will get them out of trouble. Instead, the boys' youngest brother Sean is attacked by the Italian mob in retaliation and lands in the hospital; in response, Jimmy kills the bookie. Trying to get his brothers out of trouble, Tommy kills the local heads of the Italian and Irish mobs and accidentally takes over the neighborhood.

Then everything goes to hell.

Canceled by NBC for poor ratings despite being one of the most downloaded new series on iTunes.

Incidentally, the name is a Shout-Out to a notorious Canadian family who were participants in a violent community feud near Haggis' childhood home of London, Ontario; many of them met their end in a bloody home invasion massacre by their enemies.

The Black Donnellys provides examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: Sean is the lucky recipient of one. Which then gets traded by his brothers for an Alleged Van. He's not very happy about it.
  • Bandaged Face: Sean, post-beating, for a while.
  • Batman Gambit: Nicky's fails. He poisons Alo's liquor to kill him, assuming that Alo won't offer him a drink as well, since he never has before. Except, for the first time, Alo does.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Tommy thinks he's a nice guy and most people would agree. Screw with his family or Jenny, though...
    • The veteran in the wheelchair they try to evict, who first throws pee-balloons at Kevin, and later nearly strangles Kevin to death after, in a Kick the Dog Too Dumb to Live moment, Kevin ambushes him to do the same when the guy thought he'd made peace with the brothers.
  • BFG: "A rocket launcher?" It never gets used, though.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Franny Kenny. a friend of their fathers tangibly involved in his murder does a good job lying and pretending to help the boys while leading them on a dead end. Even after being exposed he still has a somewhat affable, non-threatening and half-apologetic air about him.
  • Blatant Lies
    Kevin: Tommy. Me and Jimmy went downtown with goodness in our hearts to work out a deal. But Louie starts threatening me, I mean what was I supposed to do?
    Tommy: Kevin, everybody knows who did this. You kidnap somebody, they're not supposed to know who you are.
    Kevin: Tommy, you think we're stupid? We wore masks!
    Tommy: You went down there with goodness in your hearts but you wore masks?
  • Born Lucky: Subverted. Kevin thinks he fits this trope. It does not occur to him that he's actually just a gambling addict who's never won a bet in his life.
  • Break the Haughty: Happens to Jimmy when Dokey humiliates him by convincing him to shave his head and doing...something that involves motor oil and a lack of clothes. He turns this into an Important Haircut, though, sort of.
  • Broken Pedestal: Tommy discovers that his mother sent the boys' father to the meeting that ended in his death.
  • Butt-Monkey: Joey, arguably—the brothers get him to do all sorts of favors and menial tasks without showing much gratitude.
    Kevin: (as a huge dog chases Joey, whom they used as bait) I thought Joey could run faster than that.
  • Cliffhanger: The fates of the boys' mother, Dokey, Samson and Nicky are all left hanging.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: A local drug dealer invokes this to get Tommy to drive her competition out.
  • Cut Short: The last episode of the series ends with most of the main characters on the run in a van, getting shot at, and the boys' mother possibly dying.
    Joey: (narrating) That's the thing about the Donnellys. They never could get more than a block out of the neighborhood.
    • Slightly downplayed in that [[spoiler: although Helen was shot, they did seem to have gotten far enough away from Dokey's men so they weren't being shot at anymore]. by the final shot.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters, but Tommy probably holds the crown.
  • Deal with the Devil: Tommy cuts a deal with Nickey Cottero to try to take down Dokey and Alo.
  • Disappeared Dad: Bobby Donnelly died when the boys were still kids. Part of the series involves the brothers finding out the truth about their dad's involvement with the local organized crime scene.
  • Disposing of a Body: Good Lord, in practically every episode. Played somewhat for comedy when Jimmy kills Whitey and spends an entire day debating with Joanie about what to do with him.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: The Donnelly brothers, Nicky, and Louie Downtown.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Happens a few times, most amusingly when Kevin refuses to cut in line at the housing development office...minutes after burning Lino with a lighter to get information.
  • Evil Uncle:
    • Whitey's uncle Bob the Mouth, who threatens to kill both Jimmy and Whitey if they don't pay him back his money.
    • Averted with Dokey, who terrifies his young nephew, but doesn't seem to have any ill-will towards the boy, and views him as the future of their family.
  • First Girl Wins: It's not that Tommy doesn't date. It's certainly not that Tommy doesn't notice other women. But Jenny Reilly will always have his heart.
    • She doesn't really win, though, as they don't necessarily end up together.
    • Averted with Shawn and Kim, as he seems happier with his next girlfriend Nadine although again, they might not have ended up together due to a case of It's Not You, It's My Enemies.
  • Flash Back: Each episode includes flashbacks to the boys' childhood. Technically, the entire series is a flashback, as Joey is telling the story from an unspecified point in the future.
  • Foregone Conclusion: An early episode has one of the cops interrogating Joey mention that the Donnelly Brothers as people who might kill Joey for snitching, meaning that at least two of them live long enough for Joey to be arrested (something which still hasn't happened by the finale).
  • Foreshadowing: Joey occasionally indulges, mentioning something at the beginning of an episode that only makes full sense at the end.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Jimmy (Choleric), Tommy (Melancholic), Kevin (Phlegmatic) and Sean (Sanguine).
    • Similarly, Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Jimmy (The Cynic), Tommy (The Realist), Kevin (The Apathetic) and Sean (The Optimist).
  • Framing Device: Joey's stories (sometimes an Interrogation Flashback for cops or his lawyer, other times jus chatting with cops or other prisoners).
  • The Gambling Addict: Kevin, and he loses a lot, although he has good instincts. (It's a Daddy Issues thing.) Jimmy also won the Firecracker in a bet, although we don't know with whom.
  • Guns Akimbo: Joey does this in the penultimate episode when Tommy goes after Dokey. OK, no, he doesn't, but that's the first version he tells.
  • Institutional Apparel: Joey wears a bright orange prison jumpsuit in all of the framing scenes.
  • Interrogation Flashback: Every episode is told in flashback by an associate of the Donnellys, Joey "Ice Cream", as he's interrogated in prison. He's actually a bit of an Unreliable Narrator since he tends to inject himself into scenes where he couldn't have been present. And he is telling it to anyone who will listen. Sometimes this is cops or lawyers who are asking for the story in order to find evidence or facts. Sometimes it's the guard sitting outside Joey's cell who just wants him to shut up.
  • Jerkass: Jenny's dad is an utter prick to Tommy, and refuses to admit the problems his early-stage dementia is causing.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: The sheer amount of trouble and misfortune that could be avoided if Tommy stopped bailing out Jimmy and Kevin every time they do something stupid, greedy, arrogant, or hot-headed is staggering. The two are seemingly incapable of following Tommy's advice on a single intelligent matter and cause themselves, Tommy, and everyone else around them no end of grief as a result. Joey Ice Cream lampshades this, noting that Jimmy and Kevin are always dragging Tommy down, and he lets them get away with it due to familial loyalty and guilt over maiming Jimmy.
  • Karma Houdini: Jimmy and Kevin can begin to feel like this by the halfway point of the series given all the stuff they do without a shed of remorse, even if most of it is Played for Laughs.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: One way to see Nicky having to drink poison with Allo. after it was his machinations that kicked off the murders in the first episode, and various crimes afterwards, to begin with.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Jenny would like to be Single Woman Seeks Good Man. Unfortunately, her husband is a deadbeat drug dealer who gets murdered before the series starts; Samson turns out to be a blackmailing stalker; and Tommy, her childhood sweetheart, is well on his way to becoming the head of organized crime in the area.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Tommy loves Jenny. Jenny loves Tommy. They are totally meant to be. Except that if there was no Jenny, Mary Anne would have been the one for Tommy, but instead she married a gambling addict. And Tommy's kind of carrying a thing for Kate Farrel, but that's complicated because he killed her husband Huey. Meanwhile, Jenny's gotten married; her husband's dead, but she doesn't find out about that until after she's hooked up with Samson, who subsequently turns out to be a majorly creepy Stalker with a Crush. Also, it turns out that Jimmy is also carrying a torch for Jenny, but he's dating Joanie, who sometimes hooks up with Whitey for drugs. (Joey also claims he and Jenny were kind of an item, but it's Joey so we probably shouldn't take that seriously.)
  • Mama Bear: Helen to the boys. In possibly the harshest example, when the brothers don't tell her the real reason behind Sean's beating, she comes to the conclusion that his girlfriend Kim was responsible and accordingly chases Kim off harshly. When Kim refuses to return Sean's calls later on, he assumes that it's because she was turned off by watching him get his ass kicked, and Helen is content to let him think this - until Kevin informs him what really happened.
  • Mistaken Confession: In the framing scenes of the first episode, Joey is asked by the cops where "the bodies" are and goes off an a story describing the circumstances behind Tommy killing Huey and Sal only to have a minor Oh, Crap! moment be told that those weren't the bodies they were talking about.
  • Momma's Boy: All the Donnelly brothers, to various degrees. Sean gets it the worst, being the youngest.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tommy kills Sal and Huey after realizing that Huey is planning to cut a deal with the Italian mob — Jimmy's life in exchange for letting Louie' death go. Rather than solving any problems, this sets off a chain reaction of events leading to Tommy giving up virtually everything that ever mattered to him in order to protect his brothers' lives.
  • Off the Wagon: Tommy gets Jimmy arrested and sent to jail in order to get him into rehab. Kevin goes behind Tommy's back and bails Jimmy out. Jimmy immediately thanks Kevin and goes to find his dealer.
  • Perfect Poison: Averted. In the series finale, Nicky and Alo are both poisoned, and Nicky is in quite a lot of pain when we last see him.
  • Previously on…: Usually narrated by Joey, often with some irritation that people need a recap.
  • Put on a Bus: The cop from the first few episodes, despite cooperating well with Tommy, vanishes until near the end of the series.
  • Retro Universe: Nobody can agree when this show is set. Technology points to 2007-ish, but the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood the show presents is more faithful to the area in the 1990s. Joey Ice Cream's inability to get any dates right doesn't make it any easier.
  • Screwed by the Network: Six episodes of thirteen were aired.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Samson, to a very disturbing degree.
  • Timeshifted Actor: The flashbacks to the brothers as kids; sometimes includes young Jenny and/or Joey as well.
    • Though they could have chosen actors who looked more like the adult versions, particularly in the cases of Kevin and Jimmy.
  • Tragic Dropout: Tommy was studying to be a painter, but his brothers Jimmy and Kevin get into serious trouble with the local mob bosses. He gets them off the hook, but it costs him his scholarship. He tries to find another way to pursue his education, but his brothers get into more trouble. Tommy knows that without his guidance his brothers will be killed, so he gives up his dreams and becomes a criminal himself.
  • Unreliable Narrator: And how. The narrator, Joey Ice Cream, is a friend of the brothers, telling the story from prison at some point in the future. He injects himself into scenes he couldn't possibly have been at, contradicts himself, gets called out on lies, and tries to gloss over details.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: In the pilot, when Shawn is getting beaten up, his date Kim tries to fight off his attackers briefly.
  • Wham Shot: the flashback revealing who kicked the boys father to death Dokey Farrell.