Full disclosure: I’ve known Donny (whose muscle-T profile in the ad industry often made him a lightning rod for haters) since the early 1990s, when he started building his eponymous agency. Along the way, I’ve written about Deutsch Inc. campaigns, and have appeared on TV shows like “Charlie Rose” and “Today” with Donny. I have also been a guest on the various TV programs that he has hosted, like “The Big Idea.” And in those situations, he’s always been smart and gracious.
So I came to praise Donny, not bury him. But with this “alternative comedy,” which comes from Left/Right, the same producers of “Odd Mom Out,” he does an awfully good job of burying himself.
Fortunately or unfortunately for Deutsch, the show comes at a time when another Donny from Queens, who also attended the Wharton School and is known for his unfettered ego, is all over the news as the leading Republican candidate for president.
Donny and the people of Deutsch have appeared on “The Apprentice” many times. And obviously, the link is not lost on him: the show features a Mrs. Trump-like, long-limbed Russian model character who is Donny’s on-and-off girlfriend (She still gets to use the credit card even when she’s off.) When she’s on, she tends to sprawl across his bed in upscale bondage-y leather underwear, mirroring some shots of Melania Knauss-Trump that have surfaced from her modeling days.
Also key: both Dons inherited businesses from their fathers. (Trump recently told Matt Lauer on the “Today Show” that he had it tough, starting in the real estate business in Brooklyn with a skimpy million-dollar loan from his dad.)
But I give Donny credit for building David Deutsch’s small-ish agency into something huge, and being able to sell it to Interpublic, netting himself some $200 million along the way. To the victor goes the spoils.
But therein lies some of the problem. Like Richard Kirshenbaum, (the co-founder of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners) who has a book out called “Isn’t That Rich? Life Among the 1 Percent,” these guys who got very rich from advertising in the ‘90s aren’t satisfied with just being rich. They seem to need to show their own superiority to those other tiresome, self-absorbed, flaky rich people. Seemingly, they are just too delightful, clever, and wacky for their starched surroundings -- while still enjoying the perks. Yeah.
I was hoping that “Donny!” would be a meta, self-aware commentary on modern media, skewering the idea of a phony talk show host, and all that goes on surrounding the production.
There is some of that in the pilot episode. As in real life, Donny is surrounded by the smart women he hires, telling him what to do and what an ass he is. His female executive producer’s lines from the control room, like “Cut to break. We have a supernut!” are funny.
But lots of comedies have parodied the daytime talk show format, and this version provides nothing fresh in the analysis department (except that Donny comes on to all of his female guests, supernuts or not.)
In total, the show is repetitive and derivative, suggesting “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Sex in the City,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and more. Like the fictional Carrie Bradshaw, the real Donny is in real ads on the side of city buses for his fictional show, “Donny!” (And the idea that he sucks in his cheekbones to pose for a selfie within a selfie within a TV show is clever.)
But the big, big problem with the show is this: TMI about Donny’s sex life. (And his love of role play, and the grooming of his private parts.) This involves seeing Donny naked from the waist up -- a lot -- with much screen time given to his belly button. I actually enjoyed the first episode, but by the second one, in which he announces, as his gift to humanity, that he is actually going to date “an age-appropriate woman,” and also comes out with lines like “Here comes the big dog,” I really needed a barf bag.
I felt embarrassed for Christie Brinkley, who has a sex scene with Donny, and wildly overacts, even though she’s supposed to be making fun of someone who wildly overacts.
He has a whole seduction ritual (that he makes fun of) involving bringing his dates back to his house and being humble about his art collection.
The show is shot in Donny’s real-life Upper East Side townhouse, a magnificent place that provides flashes of true porn — of the real estate kind. Unlike Trump’s ridiculously gilded and marbled apartment, Donny’s house is light, airy, architectural, and filled with great modern art. He should do a cooking show or something from his kitchen.
Anyway, back to Christie. He gives her a tour of his closet and she has one genuinely funny line: “Who does your shelf labeling?”
After they are back near the bed, she says, “Show me what you got” (blergh). So Donny dashes back into his closet and pulls out a bottle of Purity Vodka and goes into an actual ad pitch, direct to camera.
This might be the one show that people watch for the built-in commercials as a way to avoid the sex scenes.
It seems to be a case of preemptive douchiness: If I show you this stuff as a way to claim I am making fun of this stuff, then you can’t criticize me.
If only Donny would get away from his own narcissism to focus on other topics. The third episode, about his young son who tap dances, is most affecting when it’s strictly about the kid and his talent. The actors who play his fictional son and daughter (in real life he’s the single father of three daughters) are really terrific.
But it always comes back to Donny, that lovable scamp, who might mess up, but manages to fix it :“I will finesse this. I will do the Donny Deutsch thing,” he says.
Who is the audience for this? Older rich people on the Upper East Side?
In a Larry David-esque way, Donny coins some terms on the show which he keeps repeating, and which are funny. But the difference between him and Larry David is that although Larry can be cruel, tiresome, and persnickety, in the end he is commenting on the human condition. Whereas Donny is always selling.
In one scene, he’s shown walking down the street near his fabulous townhouse with his daughter (who is wearing a great gold backpack.) A young woman says, “Hi Donny. Love your show.” I’m sure he’s hoping the audience will react that way.
But I can’t imagine that Deutsch clients will be thrilled. And it certainly colors his future appearances as a commentator on “Morning Joe” and on “Today” to have made himself a laughing stock in the guise of making himself a laughing stock. Who’s gonna believe him?
It makes me sad. But I guess for Deutsch, the two worst words in the English language are “Donny Who?”