Designed as a vehicle for ad-man-turned-personality Donny Deutsch, “Donny!” wants to be “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and in terms of comedy series built around people who didn’t need one, comes a whole lot closer to “Emeril.” USA describes the show as “soft-scripted,” which is an insult to both writing and softness, given how blunt most of the jokes are. Other than Deutsch’s desire to demonstrate how he looks with his shirt off, which happens with unexpected frequency, it’s difficult to see what he, or USA, saw in this campaign, but the account should be put up for review.
Like “Curbed,” Deutsch is playing a tweaked (or really, more like torqued) version of himself, a megalomaniacal daytime talk-show host along the lines of “Dr. Phil.” The secret, naturally, is that Donny wouldn’t be able to do much of anything without his patient producer (Emily Tarver) spouting advice into his earpiece, or the trio of personal assistants on hand to attend to his every need.
Well, not every need. There’s a Russian model (Tina Casciani) for that, with whom he insists on indulging in role-playing sex games, like “Putin and the bad ice skater.” In the premiere, Donny hosts an episode with a woman who texted naked pictures of herself, then – after admonishing her – does the same, inadvertently sending a “sext” meant for his gal pal to a third party.
Created by Angie Day and Deutsch (who share writing credit on the premiere), the program synergistically draws on cameos from other NBCUniversal talent, including MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” anchors and “Today’s” Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb in the first and second episodes, respectively. But the kick of self-satirizing attempts to mock pampered, self-absorbed media types – such as Deutsch picking up his kids with a driver – feels about as dated as those “Where’s the beef?” ads. (Speaking of ads, Deutsch’s willingness to stop the show dead in its tracks to deliver them doesn’t help matters either, proving more confusing than cheeky.)
Frankly, if Deutsch wasn’t at the center of the whole exercise, the show (which is being paired with “Chrisley Knows Best”) would probably have been built around his producer, who has to tell him that he can’t keep returning to lesbians as a topic, shamelessly flirt with guests or pretend to have cancer just to goose his ratings. Of course, that would have been “30 Rock,” instead of what emerges, which is a watered-down version of Starz’s “Blunt Talk,” already a watered-down version of “The Larry Sanders Show.”
The second episode focuses on Donny needing to find an age-appropriate celebrity to date, somewhat amusingly running through a list of names before he lands on Christie Brinkley. Yet even that takes a disappointing turn, when the topic turns to, er, personal grooming.
There’s some shaving that needs to be done here, all right. But if USA tried to pare “Donny!” down to its worthwhile bits — the few that could inspire any sort of enthusiasm — most could pretty easily fit inside a 30-second spot.