In the Irish working-class neighbourhood of Rhode Island known as ‘The Hill’, local boy Tommy Caffee (Clarke) is an aspiring politician and upstanding family man. As his career plans are starting to bear fruit, the death of a local mobster means that his vicious gangster brother Michael (Isaacs) is free to return after several years of self-imposed exile. Though Michael would do anything for his brother, when he resumes all his former criminal activities and contacts it causes constant problems for Tommy’s ambitions and reputation…
Are you a fan of David Chase’s seminal mafia masterpiece The Sopranos? What about HBO’s sprawling city-wide epic The Wire? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions and are in the market for a similar show now that both have departed stage left, then look no further than Showtime’s Brotherhood. Though cancelled itself after only three seasons due to tragically (yet predictably) low viewing figures, Blake Masters’ mixture of family drama and crime thriller will appeal to similar audiences. Indeed, as a densely plotted, intelligently crafted and flawlessly-realistic saga of families, politicians and gangsters in a blue-collar city, comparisons are inevitable.
In truth, Brotherhood isn’t quite in the same league, and you can understand why audiences dwindled. At times the measured pacing is perhaps too measured for its own good, and while the infrequent bursts of action are undoubtedly hard-hitting, they’re too few and far between. Impressive but not quite compelling, expertly realised but rarely gripping, you keep wanting for it to burst into life, but it never quite happens.
That said, Masters’ ambition and approach is to be applauded. With him and co-producer Henry Bromell penning most episodes, there’s a consistent tone and quality throughout too, leading to a host of well-developed over-arching storylines with a nicely nuanced ensemble. There’s Tommy lonely wife (Annabeth Gish) who’s got a drug problem on the sly, old childhood friend Decco (Ethan Embry) who’s now an alcoholic cop stuck in between, the pair’s manipulative mother (Fionnula Flanagan)… and a whole lot more. Aussie Jason Clarke brings layers to Tommy’s ambitious, problem-juggling politician, but best of all is Jason Isaacs as his loving, loose-cannon psycho of a brother.
At times the pacing is a bit too measured and the drama lacking in real events, but Brotherhood is an impressive substitute for fans of The Sopranos or The Wire.