'Donny!' is 'Terrible!'

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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It seems clear that Donny! is one of those TV projects that was created in a bubble of mutual self-regard, as advertising-man and cable-TV host Donny Deutsch probably sat around with a bunch of mostly-male TV executives and said something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if I did a sitcom where I’m a TV host with a super-buff body who’s super-funny and a super-great single dad who scores lots of super-sexy chicks?” Hmmm, I don’t know, Donny, one of the TV execs probably said. Where’s the new-media hook for the youth demo? “I can do a lot of sexting!” cried Deutsch, to enthusiastic nods all around. But wait a minute, Donny, another executive probably said. Big problem here — what the devil will we call the show?Donny!” cried Donny. Papers were immediately drawn up and signed, hands were shaken, and a couple of the guys hung around with Donny to smoke cigars and do a little celebratory sexting.

And so now we get Donny! on the USA network. (USA calls is a “soft-scripted” show in an effort to make it sound semi-improvised.) Deutsch stars as Donny, the host of a daytime talk show that does episodes with titles like “A Sext Ruined My Life,” and who walks away from the taping convinced the crying woman he just interviewed is totally into him. In a production meeting with a long-suffering woman — and believe me, every woman involved in Donny! suffers long, including any woman who actually watches this show — he throws out lots of ideas for future shows, such as “Royal Lesbians: Dukes and Dykes,” and the woman has to shake her head wearily and say, No more lesbian ideas, Donny, it’s always the lesbians with you.

At home, Donny is an enthusiastic dad to his kids (“I slept with your coach!” he tells one child, to explain why the girl made the travel-soccer team, and also to explain why future episodes of Donny!, God forbid, will probably feature lots of child therapists). The children are wary of his enthusiasm and for good reason: He immediately ignores them to become enthusiastic about his super-sexy Russian model girlfriend. As soon as she walks into the room, he forgets the kids and starts talking about sexting with her in front of the impressionable youths.

Every once in a while, Donny stops the action to pick up an item of product placement — a snack food; some bologna — and pitches it to us while looking directly into the camera. Get it? Donny! is one of those daring, avant-garde, break-the-fourth-wall kind of sitcoms. You know, like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, from the 1980s. Or like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, from the 1950s: Ozzie talked directly to the audience, too, and though Harriet, in her pearls and sensible house dress, was a lot hotter than a Russian model girlfriend, Ozzie was lame — he didn’t have a super-buff body!

Donny wears tight t-shirts that he takes off a lot, and sometimes he carries a dumbbell around for no reason other than, perhaps, to prove there is a difference between himself and an actual dumbbell.

At one point, a character scribbles “Donny Douche” on a pad for no reason other than, perhaps, an attempt by the producers to forestall some critic from using that phrase in a review.

Donny! airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on USA.