Review in the New York Times

Showtime brought us three seasons of this strong television drama, featuring large weekly doses of Jason Isaacs! Find articles, reviews, and viewer comments about Brotherhood--and add your own!

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Review in the New York Times

Post by Gillian » Thu Jul 06, 2006 9:48 pm

In Showtime's 'Brotherhood,' Crime and Politics Meet in Providence
Published: July 7, 2006

THE legal system is a pillar of television drama, and "The Sopranos" opened the doors to organized crime, but the intersection of the two is harder to find. Showtime's new series, "Brotherhood," is all about that convergence.

The show, featuring two Irish-American brothers, one a lawmaker, the other a gangster, is the next-best thing to "The Wire" on HBO. It too explores the fluid, almost imperceptible way corruption seeps into the spine of a family, a neighborhood and local government.

HBO, which recently brought "Six Feet Under" and "Oz" to a close and will soon let go of "The Sopranos," no longer has a monopoly on great television. "Entourage" and "Deadwood" are superb, but the rival premium cable channel is catching up: "Huff" and "Sleeper Cell" are exceptionally good. So is "Brotherhood," which has its premiere on Sunday.

Tommy Caffee (Jason Clarke) is an up-and-coming state legislator from a clannish working-class section of Providence known as the Hill. His prospects are clouded, however, by his older brother, Michael (Jason Isaacs), a local mobster who has returned home to Rhode Island after a seven-year absence that led even his mother, Rose (Fionnula Flanagan), to think he was dead.

The Caffees speak with the broad "a" of New England and are fiercely competitive, close-knit and loyal. Their film noir tale mirrors the real-life Bulger brothers of South Boston; William Bulger became a state senator and president of the University of Massachusetts, while James Bulger, better known as Whitey, became a mobster and a fugitive from the F.B.I. But viewers are more likely to see the Caffees as the unKennedys, a cautionary tableau of what that Massachusetts dynasty might have been like if its patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, had not made a fortune as a bootlegger during Prohibition.

"Brotherhood" is filmed in dark, brooding light, and the usual garish signposts of ordinary American life — Dunkin' Donuts, Payless shoes, drive-through banks, StairMaster machines — have been airbrushed out. Visually, the series presents a romanticized view of urban decline, as painterly and static as northern Europe or a Woody Allen movie in his "Interiors" period.

Little girls in pastel Sunday dresses play hopscotch on empty sidewalks, while schemes are hatched, scores are settled, and feuds simmer in dank Irish bars, wilting clapboard row houses and, most of all, the State House.

"Brotherhood" is a family saga, but it is at its best when delving into other kinds of bonds, particularly those that intertwine labor, business, government and organized crime. Even the most prosaic legislative bills are veined with quid pro quo compromises and kickbacks, backroom machinations worked out with a handshake or a shove at banquets, wakes and committee hearings. Tommy is ambitious and clever, but he is no match for the glad-handing speaker of the House, beautifully played by Michael Gaston, or the state's most powerful and least visible player, Judd Fitzgerald (Len Cariou), who heads the Department of Public Works.

"Brotherhood" revels in the kind of politics that are rarely seen on television shows: brass knuckle, not grass roots. Each Caffee brother sees himself as the paladin of the Hill, but the politician and the prodigal son are anything but contrasts in good and evil. Tommy, a churchgoing family man with a lovely wife and three daughters, wants to defy the political machine but inexorably ends up greasing it. Michael is a sociopath with a do-gooder streak: he is known as "three-part Mike" because when he takes on what he views as wrongdoing, he acts as "judge, jury and executioner." In the premiere episode Michael's judicial process includes slamming a hoodlum's head into the side of a car and slicing off his ear in the kind of customized violence that, along with de-eroticized sex, is the purview of premium cable.

Michael is under surveillance by the Providence police, but his main shadow is a lifelong family friend, Declan Giggs (Ethan Embry), who, like almost everyone else on the Hill, is pulled between duty and tribal loyalty.

The women of "Brotherhood" are no less complicated. Annabeth Gish ("Mystic Pizza") plays Tommy's wife, Eileen, the perfect helpmate, except that she is unhappy and hiding a problem with drugs and extramarital sex. Ms. Flanagan is mesmerizing as the matriarch, Rose, a shop steward at the town's ailing sewing factory and a doting mother who has her own manipulative ways and secret life. Even the beautiful college girl whom Michael starts sleeping with turns out to be as mercurial and baffling as he.

Mr. Clarke, an Australian actor, is an unlikely choice to play a male lead: pale, with dark hair and pinched features, he looks like the young Napoleon in portraits by Jacques Louis David. His borderline looks echo his character: an intelligent man wavering between ambition and loyalty, public service and self interest. Tommy and Michael lack the charisma of a Tony Soprano and are hard to embrace at first, but like the series itself, their appeal deepens with each episode.

New York Times

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