Monday, October 01, 2007

"Men. Women. Midgets. Donkeys.": Brotherhood

Brotherhood is good eat-your-vegetables TV. It's sort of like The Wire's younger, less-ambitious brother. Initially, this sounds like a bad comparison, but pretty much any show would be less ambitious than The Wire. Brotherhood is slowly paced, and it really sneaks up on you. For the first few episodes of any season, you kind of wonder when the hell something is going to happen, but by the time the end of the season rolls around, all of this texture has added up to something pretty fascinating. I don't like the show as much as its biggest cheerleaders (I mean, it DID win the Peabody), but it's a pretty fascinating look at the way the worlds of politics and crime intersect. I know you think you've heard that one before, but Brotherhood is taking that old trope and showing why we still believe in it.

The second season premiere gets bogged down in trying to make us believe that Michael Caffee (the criminal brother of the show's titular pair) would have survived the massive beating he took in the season finale. It seemed at the time as something the producers might have done because they didn't think they would get a year two, and not only does it strain credulity that Michael is still alive but it also paints everyone into a lot of story corners (particularly where Declan, the cop who beat Michael, is concerned). There's a real attempt to show how someone who would have been beaten that way would possibly recover (with lots and lots of mental problems, as well as a convenient amnesia about certain things that leaves Declan in the clear (and able to tell Tommy some Russian mobsters did it) for now. This storyline does so many gymnastics that you spend most of the Michael scenes (which often gave the show a nice, action-oriented kick in the pants last season) waiting for something else to happen (though not in the scene where Michael goes to a man's house and drags him back through his window to shoot him).

The best stuff in the episode belonged to Tommy Caffee (a rising political star in the Rhode Island legislature), who is trying to sublimate his anger toward his wife (Annabeth Gish, in possibly the best role she's had -- and she makes the most of it). He's taking out his anger on the walls of a home he's hoping to flip (and between this and Carpoolers -- which also makes a big deal of the real estate market -- it feels like TV tried to jump on a bubble that burst) and on corrupt colleagues. He's unable to sublimate it forever, though, and after a meeting at his daughter's school (she stabbed a classmate with a pencil), his anger pours out in a marvelous scene where he tells his wife just how little he's able to look at her. These sorts of emotional outbursts keep the show afloat in the long, simmering moments where it seems like nothing might happen ever again (just as Michael's bursts of violence goose the show physically).

Other things I like about Brotherhood include Fionnula Flanagan as the Caffee mother and the Providence-based production, which lends everything a wintry backdrop this season that you just can't get by filming in Los Angeles (or even Vancouver, really). The Providence production also guarantees a fair number of faces you haven't ever seen performing in the smaller guest parts.

In reality, this episode was more or less a table setter, letting us know where everyone's been since the end of season one. Generally, I don't like these sorts of premieres, but that's the way things work on Brotherhood, where all of the tiny threads will add up to something bigger. At least, that's what I hope happens.

In some ways, I really admire the show for doing this sort of premiere, especially as it has its second season premiere in the coveted slot after the fast-moving, instant gratification-y Dexter, which is much more conventionally entertaining. I don't know that this will ever be a big hit (the ratings for season one were fairly anemic), but the fact that it airs after Dexter makes me impressed by Showtime's confidence in it and the fact that it stuck to its guns in the pacing department makes me impressed by its self-confidence.

1 comment:

Justin said...

I vaguely remember this conversation I had with you about this show after the season finale where I thought it was for sure going to get cancelled.

It didn't, and you're right, they painted themselves into a corner a bit and we're suffering for it; at least initially. But I have faith that by the end of the season it will all be worth it. Right now though the Michael storylines are a bit tedious.