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'Donny!' review: Soft-scripted? Try soft-headed

Donny Deutsch takes part in the AOL BUILD

Donny Deutsch takes part in the AOL BUILD Speaker Series: "Donny!" at AOL Studios in New York City on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Michael Loccisano

THE SHOW "Donny!"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday night at 10:30 on USA

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Donny (Donny Deutsch) is a talk-show host -- think Dr. Phil meets Jerry Springer. He's also kind of a clod who says dumb stuff, but at least has a cadre of smart women surrounding him to keep him in line. Nevertheless, his talk show still gets him in trouble: He learns about "sexting" and (next week) says he only likes women older than 48 -- even though he's dating a Russian model who is significantly younger.

USA is calling this a "soft-scripted" series -- which means that some of the lines the fictional Donny says are the same lines the nonfictional Donny says in real life. And, yes -- it's a send-up of that real-life Donny, too.

MY SAY "Donny!" would be as bad as you could imagine except . . . it exceeds even your imagination. It beggars the imagination, then diminishes it and beats it mercilessly into submission, until the imagination is a whimpering lost soul cowering the corner of your brain, crying -- nay, begging -- for "Donny!" to please stop.

Why, Donny, why, why, why!? You're rich, famous, certainly not bad looking and definitely buff (we see you without your shirt here, ummm, how many times?). You once ran a famous ad agency. NBC likes you, too, and will no doubt hand you some other talk show one day.

But "Donny!" feels more like penance -- personal penance, full of self-loathing and vapid, creepy one-liners directly aimed at the guy saying them. As such, this becomes penance for viewers, too.

The format is a reasonably well-established one, so -- the good news -- there is a template to follow. Unfortunately, that template -- or mold -- was perfected, then shattered by legends like Larry David and Louis CK. No one could ever hope to reassemble those pieces into a coherent, funny whole, and no one probably wants to try, either, even though Deutsch tries.

Self-parody, however, is treacherous business. That the writing has to be genuinely funny goes without saying, but at the heart of the parody there must be heart, or some shred of likability that burns through to the surface. Its in those moments, however fleeting, that the pathos arrives along with the humanity. But no pathos here. Just pathetic.


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