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Watching Showtimes new original series Brotherhood is a frustrating experience. Is it possible to request a do-over? Can we hand over the promising elements of the series to
a different creative team and hope for the best? Alas,
this is the version were stuck with, for better and more often for
The premise is a tantalizing blend of crime story and civic drama a sort of cross between The Sopranos and The Wire, to use examples from Showtimes direct competitor. This is not a comparison that holds up to much scrutiny, however, as both HBO series boast levels of depth and complexity that Brotherhood doesnt begin to approach.
Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs star as the Caffee brothers, Tommy and Michael respectively. Tommy is a
The set-up seems inspired by the real-life Bulger brothers of
The series gets off on the wrong foot from the opening scene, which consists of two tough guys screaming obscenities and racial epithets at each other right before one beats the other to death. Its designed to grab your attention and rub your face in the fact that this is going to be an edgy pay-cable show that breaks all the rules, but it plays almost as a Sopranos parody. Viewers who found the most recent season of HBOs seminal gangster opera too contemplative and lacking in whacking may have found what theyre looking for here.
Theres nothing too subtle about Michaels side of the story. He ingratiates himself with crime boss Freddie Cork (Kevin Chapman) through his earning skills and wins the heart of a young co-ed by cutting an ear off the thug who assaulted her. (He later presents her with a gift box containing new earrings along with the severed ear, proving hes a romantic at heart.) All the while he is looking to consolidate his power by assembling a team of loyal soldiers and staying one step ahead of his childhood friend, Providence cop Declan Giggs (Ethan Embry).
Tommy hopes to become prince of the city in a more legitimate fashion, though he is not above back room wheeling and dealing. He represents The Hill, a working class Irish neighborhood, and his days consist of not in my backyard tasks like directing a highway spur out of his district and helping to settle a garbage strike. Tommy is not quite as ethically pure as he would like people to believe; his state salary is a pittance, so hes trying to use his clout and connections to further his real estate career. The political power brokers hope to groom him for bigger things, but Tommy has a stubborn streak and is reluctant to play ball.
Brotherhood is at its best when it sticks to the ins and outs of city politics; it can be fascinating to watch one hand washing the other before reaching into yet another pocket. Its unfortunate that the mob element, which should add spice to a complex narrative stew, is so hackneyed and cartoonish. The biggest miscalculation Masters makes is trying to inflate the proceedings into some kind of biblical allegory of Cain and Abel. (All of the episodes are named for Bible verses, each of which no doubt illuminates the given hours theme, if anyone wants to be bothered looking them up.) Theres endless droning about The Importance of Family, the sort of thing The Sopranos undercuts so well, but which is played deadly straight here. As the Caffee matriarch Rose, Fionnula Flanagan is the most egregious offender, serving up her homilies with heaping helpings of blarney.
As far as the lead Jasons go, Clarke lacks the charisma to get us emotionally invested in Tommy, overplaying the characters sanctimonious side. Hes rather humorless, a flaw he shares with the show as a whole. Isaacs is menacing enough, but he doesnt do much to transcend his standard-issue wiseguy role. Faring worst of all may be Annabeth Gish as the quintessential long-suffering politicians wife Eileen, whose inner life is basically nonexistent. (After the fifteenth time she hides in the bathroom to smoke a joint and break down weeping, youll be ready to do the same.)
Although Brotherhood is shot entirely on location in
- Scott Von Doviak