Brotherhood Review: A Fading Gem

May 21, 2010 by  
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BROTHERHOOD: Friday 21st May, FXUK, 10pm ALERT ME

To write an American drama series with longevity, it would appear that themes of drugs, dodgy deals and nefarious activities go a long way to securing popularity.Brotherhood is no different to its well established peers in this respect, but it represents a more subtle and patient approach to this end.

Brotherhood was created by Blake Masters, initially conceived as an idea for a feature film. The premise was inspired by the real-life Bulger brothers from Massachusetts: William M. Bulger was a prominent state politician and his brother, James J. Bulger, was the leader of the Irish-American crime family Winter Hill Gang.

The first episode of series 3 spells the beginning of the end for this drama following the decision made by Showtime to decline to order further installments. Despite receiving widespread critical acclaim—with voices particularly praising Masters and Bromell’s writing and the central performances of the Caffee brothers— Brotherhood did not maintain a large audience in America or on this side of the pond.

Dipping into this episode perhaps reveals why. Brotherhood is a show which demands patience and perseverance from the viewer. Characters do not reveal themselves quickly or superficially, and plot is slow-building and stodgy. We are not bombarded with action. Although this won’t challenge the likes of The Wire in broad viewing, it is much to the writers’ credit that their subject material is dealt with in such a manner.

The series is set in Providence, Rhode Island, and pivots upon the Irish-American Caffee brothers: Tommy (Jason Clarke) is a local politician, and Michael (Jason Isaacs) is a professional criminal involved with New England’s Irish Mob. The assertion by Blake Masters that the dynamics of the Bulger brothers, the pair on which Brotherhood is based, is ‘sustainable and compelling’ stands up even after seeing one episode. Michael is a complex man – violent, psychologically troubled and a cast-iron alpha male – and excellently played by Jason Isaacs. On the other hand, his brother is the more measured Tommy who has problems in the family home, and retains a sensitive conscience as a police officer.

Bent cops, cutting deals, and hedonistic sex all drip from Brotherhood, but in a fashion which asks for thought and an attention span. Not only are connections and relationships built intelligently, but the acting’s rather good as well. I felt I was watching something genuine, as opposed to the perceived theatrics some American dramas exude.

A shame, perhaps, that Brotherhood is not being rewarded with another series – but relative anonymity and modest airtime might well match its sober and thoughtful approach to U.S drama.