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Chitlins, it is with great sadness that I must relate my horrible and egregious lack of Showtime. Darlings, it was a choice between many multiple showings of The Original Latin Divas of Comedy, or extra peanuts, and I followed my trunk. This is not to say that this was an easy decision - by no means. To hear reports from sibling deities, I have missed much quality programming, Dexter, Masters of Horror, Sleeper Cell (- brilliant writing by Mssrs. Reiff & Voris there, I understand), and most recently The Tudors (- the cross-pollination of MG’s burgeoning Plantagenet-mania, and Our adoration of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is particularly owtchie.)
In the midst of all that fine drama is the series Brotherhood, which I had heard nothing about other than it was a new show starring the fabulous and wonderful Jason Isaacs, best known to followers of semi-popular kiddie-lit as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter film set. Having borne a fascination with Mr. Isaacs both in and out of the waist-length platinum wig, I was anxious to hear more about the announced Showtime series, sadly it would remain out of my grasp for some time until recently, when the Shrine was blessed with the Brotherhood Season One three-disc DVD set. Eleven episodes full of Lu(s)ci(o)us all for me!
Well, yes, there is plenty of Mr. Isaacs who plays Rhode Island thug, Michael Caffee, but amazingly there are other people featured in Brotherhood. Jason Clarke plays Michael’s younger brother, up-and-coming political bright light Tommy Caffee. Michael’s been away for a while, fleeing a gang-ordered execution attempt that kept him away from friends and family for 7 years. It’s Michael’s sudden return to “The Hill”, an almost exclusively Irish working-class neighbourhood that turns the life of his brother, his family and everyone he ever knew upside-down. Michael’s obsession to get back everything he lost and more in those 7 years, and Tommy’s drive to rise higher in Rhode Island’s government bring the brothers to loggerheads. Michael’s increasingly illegal activities threaten everything Tommy has ever worked for. Brotherhood also features a remarkable cast including the incredible Fionnula Flanagan as the tough-as-nails family matriarch, Rose Caffee. Rose will hear nothing bad about her prodigal son and her dictates hold the two brothers together. Annabeth Gish is Eileen Caffee, Tommy’s troubled wife and mother of their three daughters. Her downward spiral becomes a threat to herself, as well as to her husband’s political aspirations. Old family friend and current Rhode Island police officer Declan (“Deco”) Giggs, finds his loyalties tested when Michael starts reclaiming his underworld dominance.
One of the most remarkable things about Brotherhood is its choice of location. I’m a bit shamefaced to say that I’ve never given Rhode Island much thought previously other than to know that the Talking Heads met at school there and they have nice, colourful chickens. I had never thought about the existence of crime in Little Rhody; that they had even slums or dangerous territory. I’m pretty sure Brotherhood is not meant to be a documentary, or a reflection of the whole state, but the lack of familiarity with Rhode Island as a film location brings a novelty and freshness to the story. Brotherhood takes a very interesting look at a neighbourhood struggling with gentrification and a loss of identity. Their love for "The Hill" affects both brothers in different ways; Tommy’s lobbying to get funding to save the precious little his constituents have left, and Michael’s proactive reaction upon coming back to find so many of his old haunts and stomping grounds have changed or disappeared. The brothers will do anything for their old neighbourhood, where both men still live, and the revelation of the piece is the fact that the siblings, seemingly on opposite sides of the law, really aren’t all that different. While Michael’s offences are loud and clearly on the wrong side of jurisprudence, we find out that Tommy is also considered a thug by his political detractors and is not above skullduggery, backstabbing, and double dealing to achieve his means. The gradual blurring of the lines between the brothers’ tactics is fascinating to watch unfold. The two actors do a wonderful job relating the contentious bond between them as they fluctuate between devotion and hate. Isaacs is every bit as brilliant as I thought he’d be, moving from mama’s boy to dangerous sociopath in the blink of an icy-blue eye. He runs the show and is clearly enjoying being naughty. However, while you’re beguiled by Jason Isaacs’ juicy yet controlled performance as bad boy, Michael Caffee, don’t dismiss the quiet storm that is Jason Clarke. I hadn’t seen him in anything before, but he’s wonderful as Tommy Caffee, portraying the depths of this conflicted character, who is paid so poorly as a public servant, he has to sell real estate on the side to make ends meet. Tommy’s gotta come up in the world for the sake of his family, and Clarke does an amazing job at conveying an underlying malice and steely determination under Tommy’s cool, unflappable façade.
At first, I was tempted to dismiss Brotherhood as a less-ethnic Sopranos retell. A lot of the same setups are there, you have the struggle of superiority between gang members and the lengths people will go to for the sake of their families. Brotherhood starts out a bit slow, and takes a couple of episodes to warm up to the nice simmer you’re left at by the last disc. But hang in there, babies, because it’s worth it. The slow pacing serves the intelligent writing on the show in an almost hypnotic fashion, kind of like a snake staring at a bird so intently the bird is just lured into its grasp. Before you know it, you’re completely involved with the each of the characters and you want to know how things will turn out. This, again, is a credit to the writers, that nearly all the characters are written three-dimensionally and you’re allowed enough of a look-in to their souls that you are allowed to sympathise. Now I say nearly all the characters, because my one complaint about the series is something I’m starting to think is an epidemic on other dramas I watch (- The Riches, I’m looking at you! And I'm giving the upcoming Meadowlands a tentative hairy eyeball, as well); the stupid, annoying wife with out-of-control drama cravings. Annabeth Gish is a splendid actress, I’ve watched her since she was a child star and thought she was fab back then, and I was happy to see her cast in Brotherhood. Why oh why, dear writers, do you then have to take her potentially amazing character; fraught with turmoil and facing an abyss, and make her a blooming idiot? Not to give too much away for those who’ve not seen the series, but Eileen is all kinds of mess - mostly self-inflicted. We go through 11 episodes and still have not one clue why she does what she’s doing to herself. She just seems to have problems for the sake of adding more drama to the show. Give her a little depth, why don’t ya? They’ve spent more time exploring the motivations of Michael’s sidekick’s personal issues than the wife of one of the main characters, and that’s just holey writing to me. Ms. Gish works the heck out of what she’s given with a dignity, vulnerability and grace not many actresses could have commanded, but by the time I got to that last episode, I was yelling “enough” at the screen every time it looked like Eileen was going to do something stupid again. I’m sure that the writers are looking to keep some things for subsequent seasons, but to have her spinning out of control for so long with no hint as to why is a bit disingenuous, and it’s a distraction. I’m nearly tempted to say there’s not a lot of character development for any of the female leads, including the Mighty Rose, but I’ll reserve judgment on the Dowager Caffee’s situation until the next season. At least she’s been given a little bit of dimension. I know the show is called Brotherhood, but let’s don’t overdose on the testosterone, y'all need the Yin.
But there, I’ve said it, I will be watching next season. I’m officially hooked. With the steady build of the action, the compelling storylines and the excellent performances; I’m afraid your beloved pachyderm is going to have to go on a diet and give up more than a mere bag ‘o shells to support a new habit. I was so happy to view the 1st season DVD’s, but little did I know it would leave me going into DT’s for the next installments. Thanks to Brotherhood, Showtime’s got a new sucker!
Notes on the DVD, beautiful widescreen transfer with great Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. Fun extras: The “Power Map” which gives you a sort of family tree between both brothers and their nearest connections. It is a real help to those of us new to the show, as it gives you backgrounds and insight to each character. There’s a photo gallery as well (- Yay, more pictures of Lu(s)ci - I mean Jason Isaacs…). Sadly, there’s only one audio commentary on the whole set. Episode 9 features insightful and informative words about rain, penises, lunchboxes and That Thing You Do from the two writers/creators/executive producers, Blake Masters and Henry Bromell (- who also directed this installment). Would that there were such candid commentaries that included the actors, or from acclaimed film director Philip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games) who directs episode one. Each chapter plays like a short feature and I would have liked to have heard more about the creation of each one. Maybe next season?
Still, the Brotherhood season one box set is a highly recommended purchase. For those who have never seen Brotherhood, get on the bus (- well, maybe not the bus). For those who are already watching, it’s a great collection to keep and watch over and over again.
~ The Lady Miz Diva
May 20th, 2007
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