A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What 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.
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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.)
Talk to your kids 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?