Brotherhood: Season 1 Review

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The Sopranos with less gabagool and bada bing, more Guinness and begorrah


Back in 2006, as the Sopranos was gearing up for its final season, a buzz began to emerge around an edgy Irish gangster drama that would similarly blend organised crime and strained family ties. The show was Paul Haggis’ The Black Donnellys, which debuted in early 2007 to wilting reviews and was soon cancelled. Perhaps the main reason no-one mourned its passing was that, with half the fanfare but twice the guts, another tale of Oirish button men had already come along and done it better.

Conceived by screenwriter Blake Masters, Brotherhood centres on Michael and Tommy Caffee, two Irish-American brothers in Rhode Island. Tommy (Jason Clarke) is a family man and local politician, while his older brother Michael (Jason Isaacs) is a gangster, recently returned to Providence after the death of a local crime boss lifts the price on his head. The love-hate relationship between the pair forms the meat of the series, the dysfunctional tendrils creeping out to encompass Tommy’s coke-snorting wife (Annabeth Gish), Michael’s feud with kingpin Freddie Cork (Kevin Chapman), childhood friend-turned-alcoholic cop Declan ‘Decco’ Giggs (Ethan Embry) and the pair’s conniving mother, played by a superb Fionnula Flanagan.

What sets Brotherhood aside from the majority of crime-focused TV is that, like The Sopranos, it maintains a finely nuanced sense of morality. Each character is fully fleshed out, crowned by Isaacs’ Michael, a complex antihero, who in his own violent, sociopathic way, is more rigidly principled than his ‘respectable’ sibling.

The O’pranos? It’s not far off.