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DVD Review: Brotherhood – The Complete First Season

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Warning: watching Brotherhood may cause bipolar disorder.

I wish a similar warning had popped up on the screen before I started watching Showtime's political/mob drama. There are moments when I so deeply adore the series and the newness of its ideas that I want to rearrange the furniture. There are other moments that I hate the show and its tired, trite story arcs so much that I want to shut it off and sleep for days.

Brotherhood and the epic story of the Caffee brothers can cause emotional distress. Plus, it has the added problem of being a heavy drama in the vein of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. For drama fans that's a good thing, but you have to be a serious, serious fan.

The show follows Tom Caffee (Jason Clarke), Rhode Island State Legislator representing Providence's working-class, Irish-Catholic neighborhood of The Hill. He works hard for his district, making ethically questionable back room deals for the maximum benefit of The Hill. The party powers see him as the next JFK. And he could be. That is until his brother, mobster Michael Caffee (Jason Issacs), returns from exile.

Michael intentions for The Hill are similar, if self-serving. He wants to rid the neighborhood of union organizer and ruling mob guy Freddie Cork (Kevin Chapman). As the series progresses Michael actions start to affect Tom's political career, with a U.S. Attorney looking to bring down both Caffees and Cork. Worse, Tom's powerful political friends may not be able to stop the inevitable.

The above mentioned plot is the great part of the series, the one where I find myself leaning into the TV and waiting for the next episode. The storylines involving Tom's philandering, drug-addicted wife; an overbearing, Michael-obsessed mother; Cork's family issues; Michael's relationship problems and trouble with his help; and a conflicted cop, who just happens to be a lifelong Caffee friend fail to be as innovative or even as interesting as the rest of the series.

The collision of the Caffee brothers' conflicting careers at times exists in a universe of its own. The tangential storylines are important to the progression of the show, but they often overstay their welcome. Whereas I find myself caring about the Caffee brothers, along with the closely intertwined Cork and the cop friend, I don't ever seem to care about Mrs. Caffee or mother Caffee. They are a drain on the show in spite of the marvelous performances from Annabeth Gish and Fionnula Flanagan as Tom's wife and his mother, respectively.

Brotherhood is effortlessly great when we get to see Tom Caffee zig and zag his way through Rhode Island state politics. There's a skeezy, dirty game going on, one lacking the romance of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing. On the flipside, Sopranos fans may do well to catch up on the DVD ahead of the premiere of Brotherhood Season Two on Sept. 30. The oft-underrated Jason Issacs gives a staggering performance as the charismatic, brutal Michael Caffee. His own power grabbing in the world of Providence crime doesn't make him comparable to Tony Soprano, but he's getting there.

Lucky for audiences, Michael and Tom's storylines come to a head in the last few episodes of the season. The show begins to focus less on the other characters and more on the coming storm. The heavy drama has higher stakes and all of the stories, for better or worse, begin to propel Brotherhood forward. They may still be adding layer upon layer of new problems without any resolutions, but they have resonance because they so aggressively affect the brothers. In a show titled Brotherhood, that's the way it should be.

The New Season Starts Sept. 30 on Showtime.

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About Daniel J. Stasiewski