The Black Donnellys

Common Sense Media says

Revenge and loyalty drive violent NYC crime drama.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Four young-adult brothers transition from petty offenses to truly violent crime. While all brothers are good-hearted (though for some it's a lot further down than others), they don't hesitate to commit brutal acts in retaliation or protection of their family. Revenge and pride are big motivators here.


Major violence, though it's not absolutely explicit. Guns, beatings, murder, torture, body disposal, blood-splattered bodies, etc.


Passionate kissing; unrequited love.


Lots of mild expletives like "hell," "damn," "screwed," etc.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Many scenes are set in a bar. Fair amount of drinking, and some smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that even though this is a network show, the violence -- both depicted and alluded to -- is extreme, including kidnapping, assault, and murder. An example: One scene involves disposing of a body by stuffing it into a barrel; when it doesn't fit, the body is smashed with a sledgehammer until it does (the person wielding the weapon is seen with blood spatter on his face after each blow). While loyalty and the importance of family are central themes, the Donnelly brothers are involved in everything from gambling and petty theft to cold-blooded executions. Many scenes occur in a bar, and drinking and smoking are common. Some scenes include passionate kissing.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

THE BLACK DONNELLYS is a dark crime drama about four Irish-American brothers who've spent their whole lives in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. The fresh-faced Donnelly "boys" have ties to both the Irish and Italian mobs and are constantly getting in trouble. They start out with gambling and theft but soon graduate to kidnapping and murder, forcing the most responsible brother, Tommy, to come to the rescue. Tommy -- who's played by dark, brooding Jonathan Tucker (Criminal) -- is an art school student trying to escape his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. But family loyalty keeps dragging him back into the fray.

Is it any good?


Tucker tries to balance tough-guy intensity with tortured sensitivity, but his portrayal of Tommy is a little stiff, and his facial expressions hardly vary from scene to scene. With so much of the emotional weight of the show resting on his shoulders, he needs to bring more nuance to the role for The Black Donnellys to live up to the credentials of the show's creators (Oscar winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco). Like any good drama series, Donnellys has several plot lines in play at all times. But with all the different characters, as well as an unreliable narrator, only the most astute viewers will be able to keep track of everything that's going on. The recaps that start each episode help, but those who come to the show late might still have difficulty piecing all the parts together.

Speaking of piecing parts together... Taking a page from The Departed and The Sopranos, Donnellys is intensely violent -- though slightly tempered for network television. For example, while both Donnellys and Sopranos might feature mobsters trying to dispose of a dead body, Donnellys "only" shows the blood spray on Tommy's face as he bashes the corpse into pieces with a sledgehammer -- while Sopranos might zoom in on the hammer as it connects with the body. (In other words? Network television or no, this isn't one for kids or the weak of stomach.)

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about family loyalty. What would -- and wouldn't -- you do for your family members? Would you commit a crime? Cover up someone else's crime? How would you deal with a family member who had problems with drinking, gambling, or crime? Families can also talk about how this show is similar to and different from big-screen crime dramas like The Godfather and The Departed. What can they do in the movies that they still can't do on network TV? Does stronger content (more swearing, more sex, even more violence) make crime stories more convincing? Why or why not?

TV details

Cast:Billy Lush, Jonathan Tucker, Tom Guiry
TV rating:TV-14
Available on:DVD, Streaming

This review of The Black Donnellys was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 16 years old Written byhiiiiiiiiiiiiii... April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Puts Family First

i think that this show is good because it gives you a understanding of how family is very important

Adult Written byVOLJO April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Blacklist the Black Donnellys.

Don't waste your time watching this show, which focuses on a family of four brothers. One of the four has to think for all of them because the others are lamentably brainless. Every week three predictably get into big trouble, and big brother has to save them, even if that means knocking some sense into them. The violence is appalling and senseless; for four adult men supposedly standing up for each other's honor, violence seems to be the only method they know how to use. It also comes in handy when they commit crimes, which don't seem to conflict with the issues of honor. Stereotypical characters abound; the plots develop like re-runs of old hackneyed scripts. Television has much better to offer than this program.

Teen, 15 years old Written byadamval92 April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Top Kids' Movies: An Essential Guide for Families