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From One Black Donnelly to Another

In Gaelic, the surname Donnelly means “valour.” The family crest is emboldened with two fighting lions, so it’s not much of stretch for the name for a toned-down Irish version of The Sopranos to be called The Black Donnellys.

When I first heard of NBC’s mid-season replacement from my cousin [B&C deputy editor] Michael “Bones” Malone [Editor’s Note: No one really calls him Bones], my first thought was of my tough, Irish-Catholic firefighter father, Frank. My old man is not the most liberal guy in the world, but like a great single-malt, he’s mellowed with age. He might have come from the same school as Archie Bunker, but like Archie, there’s a tender heart in there somewhere.

“There’s no Irish mob in Hell’s Kitchen anymore, kid,” he told me. “They’re either dead or in Florida at the dog track. I mean, you lived there–did you see anything like that?”

I know my dad well enough not to answer that question honestly. I am his baby and he’s still getting over the indiscretions that befell me in my 20’s and early 30’s. Now I’m closer to 50 than 20 so, I’ve learned what my fictional TV cousins Tommy, Jimmy, Kevin and Sean Donnelly are learning every Monday night at 10 before our eyes.

I am “Black Irish” and proud. I am of the “shanty” Irish variety, not the “lace” kind: Johnny Rotten, not John Kennedy. I didn’t go to Choate or Boston College or study at Trinity for the summer. I don’t do “the Cape.” Nor am I a member of the Friendly Sons of Shillelagh or a member of any Irish heritage organization, except for the one marked by the letters “A.A.” Except for the drunks, cops and firemen, no one wanted us in Ireland, or when we got to the States.

In my eyes, you are judged by character, not by your diploma or stock portfolio.

So here comes the judge.

First off, where the hell did they shoot Black Donnellys? In Hoboken or Park Slope on a Sunday morning? There is only one instance when an Irish neighborhood is this devoid of pedestrian action: the morning of March 18th.

Hell’s Kitchen–or “Clinton”, the moniker Rudy Giuliani bestowed upon the gentrified neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side–sure is cleaned up these days, complete with faux Irish bars. But if Dick Wolf can make TV New York look real, why can’t these guys? Oh, that’s right–creator Paul Haggis is a Canadian who shares a name with a Scottish meat product. (There goes my screenplay deal.)

I have absolutely no problem with the drinking, drugs and violence. I am no angel, and
I did see a couple of hauntingly familiar things, especially The Italian thing. Yes, I grew up with Tony Soprano’s and Silvio Dante’s kids. I still know guys who wear track suits to work. My name was never Tim to them, it was Mick. When I first met my significant other’s Sicilian mother, she said, “At least you’re a Catholic.”

Black Donnellys offers all the familiar stereotypes. There’s Tommy “I’ll Take Care of It” Donnelly, aka “the smart one,” Jimmy, aka “the junkie one,” Kevin, aka “the dumb one,” (my firefighter brother’s name) and Sean, aka, “the cute one.” Then there’s Jenny Reilly, the raven-haired lass who kicks Jimmy outta bed after sex, leaving numerous opportunities for jokes about the Irish Curse.

How about the stoic Irish mother affectionately known as, “Ma”? Right there my friend, is a reason Irishmen drink. (Just joking, Ma.)

But it’s safe to say, if it walks like duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck.

I watched both episodes that aired and the one that’s online. And I gotta say with all my black Irish heart and soul, I love the brothers Donnelly. They stick up for each other. They don’t throw each other under the bus. They’d rather thrown you in the path of a bus–in the name of love, to quote world-saving Irishman Saint Bono.

(Ahh, sarcasm. This Black Donnelly's weapon of choice.)

By Guest Blogger Tim Donnelly
Tim Donnelly is a New Jersey-based writer. His blog appears at