Monday, September 1, 2008


I've never really given SHOWTIME's lineup a fair shake. I've seen a few episodes of The L Word and Queer as Folk and found them to be fairly lame, erotica laced with BIG ISSUES that forced the drama upon the viewer instead of allowing the characters dictate where the story went. Dexter and Weeds seemed from what little I had seen of the shows to be the same sort of thing, shows that relished the language, nudity, sex and violence that was allowed on the pay network without giving us a believable story and characters. From what I saw it seemed that SHO was like a kid in his first college creative writing class: You mean I can say fuck and have sex and kill people indiscriminately? Fuck yes! The network seemed to have the freedom of HBO without the talent, without the willingness to be more than merely controversial.

But Brotherhood, a show I picked up on a whim from my local library, has changed my perceptions. Based on the quality of Brotherhood, I might actually revisit some of those shows mentioned and give them a fair shake. Then again, Brotherhood might just be a fluke in their programming schedule, but what a fluke.

Clearly Brotherhood is Showtime's answer to The Sopranos, a comparison that isn't really fair. Yes, it is about gangsters on the Right Coast and it has shocking violence and sex and language, but that is pretty much where the comparisons end. But naturally, being called a poor man's Sopranos isn't a bad thing. I mean, what sane person would ask for something to surpass The Sopranos? NOTE: Hipsters who are now decidedly too cool for The Sopranos can go fuck themselves. Saying the show was anything less than brilliant merely shows how ignorant you truly are.

Brotherhood is about the Caffey brothers, two thirty-ish men from "The Hill" in Providence, Rhode Island, a fictional Irish working-class neighborhood. Tommy Caffey has a wife and three daughters and supplements his meager income as a state representative by dealing in real estate. Michael Caffey has recently returned home after a seven year self-imposed exile, living with his mother in his childhood home while working with his old buddy Pete to reestablish his formerly high-standing in the local crime racket, the current crimelord being the well-hung Freddie Cork. These two brothers butt heads as Tommy tries to stay on the straight-and-narrow in the most corrupt state government in the union while Michael murders and schemes his way back into prominence. Along the way we also follow their childhood friend Declan, a narc investigating Cork's racket while still retaining some allegiances to the brothers, Tommy's wife Eileen whose depression has lead her to cheating and drug use, and many nefarious gangsters and politicians whose differences are unsurprisingly not so great.

The thin line between the brothers is the main theme of the show. Despite their professions and actions, they are shown time and time again to be "not so different, you and I." It makes for some great storytelling and some sticky, sick situations. Yeah, it isn't as subtle or as funny as The Sopranos, but it still delivers on the gangster and family drama front much like that show did.

For me, what really makes the show special is the location shooting. Much like The Wire, Brotherhood is shot on location and it pays off. Every set and every street scene looks great, often reminding me of the great Irish gangster movies of the recent past like The Departed, Gone Baby Gone, and Mystic River. Everything looks really gritty and authentic, but not in the ham-fisted way The Shield approaches setting. There is never a moment where the scene looks heightened for effect, no shaky cam or any of the other tired bullshit marring other "gritty dramas" we've seen lately.

Brotherhood isn't quite at the level of the unimpeachable shows of recent history (The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood), but it is certainly on par with some of the rock-solid-near-great shows of late like Mad Men, Six Feet Under and Rome. It's a shame that Brotherhood isn't more well-known. Despite the fact that it will soon be going into its third season, the show has yet to really find the audience it sorely deserves. The second season will be coming out on DVD in October and you better believe it's going on my Netflix cue. Kudos to Showtime for keeping the show around despite it barely registering on the Nielsen's. Hopefully it won't go the way of Deadwood, Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development if season three doesn't get enough viewers because I desperately want to see where the Caffey boys end up.

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