Brotherhood – Killer TV no.49

Brotherhood - Season 2 - Jason Isaacs as "Michael Caffee" Claire Folger/Showtime
Jason Isaacs as Michael Caffee. Pic: Showtime

Showtime, 2006-08

Jason Isaacs, Jason Clarke, Fionnula Flanagan, Annabeth Gish, Kevin Chapman, Ethan Embry
‘If you don’t leave town tonight, you’ll destroy me.’ – Tommy Caffee
‘What’s the problem? I’ll take care of it.’ – Michael Caffee
‘You can’t, you’re the problem.’ – Tommy
‘Ask me to cut off my hand, ask me for all my money, I’ll do it. But don’t ask me to leave town. That’s the one thing I can’t do.’ – Michael
Identikit: The intertwining lives of the Irish-American Caffee brothers – Tommy, who is a politician in their home town of Providence, Rhode Island, and Michael, a criminal.
logosTwo sides of the American dream come together in this well-acted and smartly written drama from screenwriter Blake Masters. Tommy and Michael Caffee are Irish-Americans who both want to be someone, the difference being that Tommy is legit, or as legit as a politician gets, and Michael is a criminal. It is inspired by real-life brothers from Massachusetts – William M Bulger, a state politician, and James J Bulger, leader of the Winter Hill Gang. In the series, the death of mobster Patty Mullin allows for Michael to return to his old neighbourhood, having been in hiding for seven years after Mullin swore to kill him. He’s back, working for mobster Freddie Cork, and his return proves difficult for brother Tommy, particularly when Freddie tries to blackmail him into handing over lucrative town contracts. Other key figures include Tommy’s cheating wife, Eileen, Michael’s girlfriend Kath Parry and manipulative family matriarch Rose Caffee. The series is insightful about the very dirty political shenanigans of the town, and loyalty – in the family and outside – is the recurring theme. Brotherhood can be a little po-faced in its seriousness, but the writing is incisive and the performances were first class. Jason Isaacs, who comes from Liverpool in England, was convincing enough to be highly praised by US critics and his character, Michael, was hailed as the lifeblood of the show. Brotherhood was cancelled after three seasons, but one thing that rarely flagged during the run was the wonderful scripts, which were sharp and pungent. ‘Michael’s the whole fucking problem,’ says Freddie Cork to Tommy at the end of the first series. ‘Ever since he’s been back, I’ve got to have five eyes in the back of my head. Your brother is a pandemic, he’s a Biblical fucking plague. Flies, frogs, locusts and Michael fucking Caffee… He’s a plague, Tommy, and we gotta take care of it because it kills us all.’ 
Classic episode: The finale to the first season is set at a wedding, where those who aren’t wired seem to be armed with guns, the bride isn’t sure if the groom is her unborn child’s father, where Tommy is pressured to testify against Michael if he wants to progress his political ambitions, where Tommy’s wife is clearly disillusioned with life as a politician’s spouse, and where a hit man waits for Michael, who is having sex with Eddie Parry’s wife in the car park. As cliffhangers go, it’s a lou-lou.

Watercooler fact: Jason Isaacs followed up Brotherhood with two more, totally contrasting crime series – Awake, the short-lived fantasy-police procedural from NBC, and the BBC’s Case Histories, in which he played private detective Jackson Brodie in Edinburgh.

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