Plenty of comedians have played heightened versions of themselves on television over the years, from Larry David to Louis C.K. to Aziz Ansari. USA’s new foray into the format, however, features not a comedian but former CNBC host and one of the last old school ad men of the Don Draper days, Donny Deutsch.
The television personality, who is thought to be worth upwards of $200 million, enters the comedy world with “Donny!” a loosely scripted six-episode series revolving around his fabulously rich life, and his even more fabulously complicated problems. Wisely, this is a man who knows there are few out there who would ever feel sorry for him and his boatloads of money, and so he plays on the title of “Donny Douche” several times in the pilot alone.
Viewers are quickly introduced to Donny’s world via his fictional talk show, a poor man’s Dr. Phil that tackles problems like sexting. While Donny’s invaluable advice and sympathetic ear play well on camera, once the lights are switched off it’s clear he’s the last to follow his own advice or listen to the many female perspectives around him.
Fittingly, there are plenty of those. Other than Donny’s ridiculously beautiful and much younger Russian girlfriend Galina (Tina Casciani), who clearly placates the man in order to spend his money, the female-heavy cast is in place as a constant reminder of Donny’s bad behavior. His assistants are quick with the sarcastic remarks reminding him of what’s socially acceptable and what’s a terrible idea (having a girlfriend who spends $200,000 a month on frivolous items), while his producer Pam (Emily Tarver) is constantly talking him off the ledge; think using a fake cancer scare as a ratings ploy or sexting his daughter’s teacher.
Even Donny’s daughter, Coco (Fiona Robert) comes across as having a better sense of self than her father, serving as her sensitive brother’s protector and reminding her father why sleeping with her soccer coach isn’t exactly acceptable behavior.
The real key to making the pilot work, however, is the idea that Donny himself is never scripted, and reacts to these situations in his fictional life the way he would in his everyday one. It’s the characters around him who dole out the scripted work, highlighting the fact that this lead is on a whole other level than those grounded around him. He’s the type of guy who can afford to throw a million bucks at a charity in order to make a scandal go away, or has so much money he actually doesn’t know what to do with it.
Where “Donny!” stumbles will be with the inevitable comparisons to David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the benchmark of success for improvised sitcoms. On “Curb,” audiences can relate to life’s minutia as dissected by its lead, as he tackles everything from rude manners to a bloated sense of self. “Donny!” is more difficult to relate to, but at just six episodes, that might be OK.
“Donny!” premieres Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET on USA.