Brotherhood: A TV show you ought to dig up
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: hourlong crime drama premieres on TV, attracts critical acclaim but no audience, vanishes into the ether.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: hourlong crime drama focuses on organized crime, giving a 21st-century spin on the classic Godfather riffs.
Brotherhood, a drama that lasted three seasons on Showtime, hit both of the marks above. Like The Wire, it was extraordinarily well-written and criminally (ha!) underappreciated. Like The Sopranos, it cut a cross-section across the lives of politicians and organized criminals in the bleary, gray northeast, in this case Providence, Rhode Island.
Here’s the deal: the Caffee brothers, Tommy and Michael, have grown up to take very different paths. Tommy’s a state representative in the Rhode Island House, while Michael is a criminal soldier-slash-boss. (I thought it was an absurdly convenient premise; turns out it’s based on a true story. How ’bout that?) Through only 29 episodes — but it seemed like many more — we follow the Caffee brothers and their associated families, friends, associates and enemies.
Despite what that image there would suggest, Brotherhood is a relentlessly downbeat series, but that’s not a criticism. These people are bearing up under crushing weights of their own making, and it’s painful to see them struggle against their own worse natures and, more often than not, slide back into the spiritual or emotional pits that they tried to claw out of. Tommy and Michael, in particular, must do battle with the angels and devils of their natures, if you’ll pardon such a hack phrase, and both find that it’s not so easy to draw lines when family’s involved.
The show’s done now, which is probably for the best; when you’ve got people on a downward trajectory, it only ends one of two ways — they crater and die, or they recover and become far less interesting, from a dramatic perspective, than they were previously. (I don’t have to live around these sick bastards, thankfully; I’ve got a few states between me and them.) The other option, of course, is that you just keep pumping blood into an artistic corpse, and what you end up with is just paint-by-numbers drama.
The moments of violence in this series are shocking; a Yankees fan meets a sudden, untimely end when he calls Ted Williams a “fag”; a would-be player who sought to do business with the Caffees learns to late that neither one of them are to be trusted. And the psychological violence is just as shattering; the boys’ mother is as lethal with her words as her son Michael is with weaponry.
In true 2000s-era TV style, higher-profile shows are picking over the bones of Brotherhood for their cast members. Michael Caffee has shown up on Entourage (and as Draco Malfoy’s dad in Harry Potter, though that was before this). Mob boss Freddy Cork has played against his character here by playing a dorky older brother on “Rescue Me” and a flunky on “Lost.” Ma Caffee has also had a role on “Lost” as Faraday’s mother; it’s always jarring to see these well-known (to me, anyway) Brotherhood faces showing up in completely different locales.
So anyway, the show lives on in DVD form, and it’s well worth checking out. Grab an entire season — start at Season 1, obviously — and see what you think. If nothing else, it’ll tell you if you ever want to visit Rhode Island. Me, I’m not going without weaponry.