Mulgrew's 'Black Donnellys' Receives Uneven Reviews

By Michelle
February 26, 2007 - 10:12 PM

The Black Donnellys, the Irish family saga on which Kate Mulgrew (Janeway) plays matriarch Helen, has its premiere tonight on NBC following Heroes. Mulgrew's character does not appear in this first episode but will be recurring throughout the season.

  • Jonathan Storm at The Philadelphia Inquirer approved of the attractive cast and "pretty amazing" soundtrack (including Van Morrison and the Traveling Wilburys). He called the series "a swell story, if sometimes grim, featuring a panoply of rough customers, including one fellow who would rather use an ax than a gun to maintain his image."

  • Vince Horiuchi of The Salt Lake Tribune felt that the show was not at violent as HBO's The Sopranos and "the family of intense brothers makes up for" the limitations of television. "What's appealing is that the show remains focused on this group of disparate but loyal brothers. The performances are solid," he wrote. "'The Black Donnellys' doesn't bring anything new to the contemporary mob drama genre, but it's a tightly-wound journey seen through the eyes of a shady family with heart."

  • Critics from the city in which The Black Donnellys is set were not so enthusiastic. The New York Times's Virginia Heffernan stated that Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco use the same shortcut techniques on television as they employed in Crash to excess: "The show lays bare [this] form of aesthetic condescension so baldly that it may cause viewers to rethink his earlier achievement." The series, she added, "is more of a lecture than a drama" using "mannered dialogue, heavily telegraphed action and allegorical characters. A sentimental Irish story doesn’t need much to hit the spot, but this one rings false."

  • "Expect the unexpected. And even then, prepared to be surprised or fooled," wrote The New York Daily News's David Bianculli. He said that the first five episodes "are wonderful" and described Mulgrew's character as a "very tough cookie."

  • The New York Post, however, was not impressed. Reviewer Linda Stasi wrote that the actors have phony New York accents and much of the rest of the series feels just as artificial: "NBC's midseason replace ment for the equally self-indulgent 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' is not nearly as gripping as the executive producers, Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (of 'Crash' fame), think it is...in addition to the phony-sounding Irish mobbed-up wannabe Donnelly brothers, there are also mobbed-up phony Italians aplenty." Her favourite aspect was the attractive actors.

  • No more impressed was USA Today, whose Robert Bianco found the series violent, unappealing and filled with ethnic stereotypes. "As bleak as it is hard to follow, tonight's premiere introduces us to the 'Black Irish' Donnelly brothers...you'll eventually be able to tell one gun-toting, ax-wielding character from another. You're just not likely to develop a desire to spend time with them," he wrote. "Donnellys revels in and romanticizes its freeze-dried Irish bad-boy stereotypes."

  • "I have no problem with a TV show depicting Irish-Americans as drunks, drug-takers, murderers and criminals," wrote Maureen Ryan at The Chicago Tribune. "An ambitious show that depicts my fellow Irish-Americans as complicated, interesting drunks, drug-takers, murderers and criminals is fine by me." However, The Black Donnellys "is not that show" but rather a "pretentious mishmash", "a paint-by-numbers Irish-American 'Sopranos' ripoff" full of "lazy clichés" that goes nowhere.

  • More positive is The Austin Chronicle, where Belinda Acosta called the series a "laudable entry into the mob drama genre." She enjoyed the cast, particularly Mulgrew, whose role she wrote should be expanded.

  • Don't look to Louisville's Courier-Journal for equally positive press. "'The Black Donnellys' may follow 'Studio 60' off the air," wrote Tom Dorsey. "'The Black Donnellys' is violent and hard to get a handle on...the first episode of this crime show so involved with itself that the audience may feel left out. It takes patience just to get through the hour."

  • Belleville's News-Democrat pays the most attention to Mulgrew, but unfortunately doesn't have much that's positive to say about the show. Hal Boedeker writes that "Ma Donnelly is played by one of the best actresses in this or any universe - Kate Mulgrew of 'Star Trek: Voyager'" but "she is relegated to cooking and kvetching. Ma deserves better. She won't get it. The sons are lures for young viewers...the new drama is old wine poured into fancy, contemporary bottles."
The Black Donnellys premieres on NBC tonight at 10.

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