Monday, February 26, 2007

A Healthy Helping of Haggis

There really isn't a hotter screenwriting team in Hollywood than Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco. The pair won consecutive Oscars for their screenplays of "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby." Haggis also got credit as a script doctor this past year on such films as "Casino Royale" and Oscar-nominee "Letters From Iwo Jima."

Haggis himself came up through the TV ranks. It's hard to imagine, but he began his distinguished career writing for the likes of "The Love Boat" and "Different Strokes" before moving into slighly better fare such as "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "thirtysomething." Later on, he created the much-praised, but ratings-challenged, "Due South" and "EZ Streets."

So it's quite the pedigree behind the new series "The Black Donnellys" (NBC, 10 p.m.), which makes its debut tonight. Centered on the lives of four Irish brothers who are on the wrong side of the law, the show is being marketed as the next "Sopranos."

Having seen the pilot, it's got a way to go to make it into "The Sopranos'" stratosphere.

The style of the series, which is based partly on Moresco's neighborhood growing up, is undoubtedly that of Haggis, who has a way of writing so distinctive the sharp eyed viewer can detect it. (Similar to other TV auteurs like Aaron Sorkin or Joss Whedon).

Most of the story is told via flashback in a prison cell, as low-level hood Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs) tells the cops the story of the Donnelly brothers: Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), the eldest and the one who has to get the others out of trouble; Jimmy (Tom Guiry), the hothead who usually causes trouble; Kevin (Tom Lush), a gambler who constantly loses; and Sean (Michael Stahl-David), the youngest and a ladies' man.

Though amusing, the tale spun is somewhat difficult to follow as the viewer is introduced to a ton of characters very quickly. The tone then shifts from somewhat light to very dark very quickly as the narration disappears for a while.

Jimmy, trying to help Kevin get some money to cover their debts, loses a bunch of shirts in a truck he stole. To make up for it, the younger three brothers kidnap a low-level mob man. Tommy is called upon to come up with some sort of solution before the situation escalates into a war. But the situation goes bad quickly and Tommy is forced to make a choice: to stay on the straight and narrow, or protect the family.

What Haggis and Moresco lay out in the last 10 minutes of the show make up for the uneven pilot and is enough to make the show worth another look, though it has far to go to reach the level of "The Sopranos" and other crime dramas.

Though we care about Tommy, the other three brothers are so useless that you spend most of the hour wondering why Tommy goes through all the trouble of trying to help them out. (We find out why towards the end). We don't see Tommy going through the angst that Tony Soprano does, and we don't really care about the rest of the cast the way we do about the extended Soprano family.

NBC pushed the premiere of "The Black Donnellys" up a week to make up for the ailing "Studio 60," but one wonders what the rush was for. Still, there is enough potential there that the capable Haggis-Moresco team could make it worth it.

OSCAR RECAP: The TV Guy finished second in the Oscar pool, which in this case really was the first loser (as my pal Jonathan Heeter of the Bringing The Heet blog likes to put it), since only the winner got any money (if money was actually exchanged, because that's gambling, and gambling is wrong).

I got 11 of 14 categories, missing out on Best Picture (I picked "Babel," forgetting the unwritten Oscar rule that Best Picture and Best Director usually come from the same film); Best Foreign Language (picked "Pan's Labyrinth," the only one of the five I'd even heard of); and Best Animated (picked "Cars," overestimated the power of Pixar at the Oscars, underestimated the damn penguins).

I caught bits of the broadcast here and there. Ellen DeGeneres seemed capable enough though the jokes seemed rather milquetoast. The broadcast seemed to run way longer than it had in recent years, as most of the major awards are stuffed into the final 20 minutes so that they ensure viewers will know who won in Best Sound Editing.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: Mr. Bennet, aka "Horned-Rim Glasses" or "HRG" has become one of the most interesting characters on "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.), and tonight we get much of his origin story as Matt and Nuclear Man hold him hostage.

Michael and Lincoln continue to try to clear their name as C-Note switches sids on "Prison Break" (Fox, 8 p.m.) followed by the return of Charles Logan on "24" at 9 p.m.

Marshall's beloved car dies on "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) while Nicole chooses her man on "The Class" at 8:30 p.m. ABC is running its second Oprah Winfrey special in less than a week, this one about her leadership academy, at 10 p.m.


Jonathan said...

I watched "The Black Donnelys" pilot this weekend, and couldn't agree more about it being somewhat intriguing but nowhere near the likes of say "The Sopranos" or even Showtime's equally engaing "Brotherhood." I found all of the characters to be pretty much stock, and the narration was a little overbearing especially when you consider that I don't think Joey Ice Cream would even know about half of the things he's talking about, but maybe he'll turn out to be a Verbal Kent or something. The ending was a nice one; I'm not sure if it was deserved, but it gave it enough of a twist to get me back next week to see where this thing is headed.

Zodin2008 said...

It could be worse for "Studio 60", it could have been replaced by the 82nd incarnation of a "Law & Order" spinoff. At least this sounds interesting but it sounds like I will be counting the days till NBC airs the final 6 filmed episodes of "Studio 60".

As I stated in your Friday Blog this morning, I HATED the Oscars. No, not the good wins like "The Departed", Scorcese, Mirren and Whitaker (though I was not happy with the choices in the supporting categories), I was unhappy with the duller-then-watching Golf hosting job of Degeneres and her boring a-- kissing parade made me yearn for Jon Stewart and Chris Rock's hilariously funny stints.

But the critics who all love milky white toast apparently, like Robert Bianco of USA Today and Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, all, astoundingly gave Ellen an A+ for her dull, unfunny hosting.

Phillip Ramati said...

Thanks for chiming in, Jonathan. I, too, thought Joey was a little too connected, all things considered but I suppose the producers had to have some character who could explain it all without being directly part of the action. I've seen a lot of reviews for "BD" that have been harsh, a little more than was probably deserved. Another viewing is probably worth it.

Zod, hosting the Oscars is probably the most thankless job in show business. The fact that the production dragged on soooooo long wasn't Ellen's fault, and I think the producers wanted the bland aspect since Rock and Stewart were more controversial and not well-received by the critics. The parts I saw with Ellen were perfectly fine, if unremarkable, not an A+ but a solid B.