Brotherhood (which I now belatedly realise is probably a bad play on words: brotherhood, brother hood. It's about gangsters. Get it?) has improved a bit since its first episode, which was a bit of mish-mash.
The trouble is it's now "Eat your greens" television: not desperately enjoyable, but very worthy, requiring a good deal of concentration, and talking about Really, Really Important Subjects. It wants to be The Wire crossed with the dirty local politics version of The West Wing, but doesn't quite have the writing to make it on either count.
In its favour, it does have some fantastic direction. There are some wonderfully composed shots. The pacing is slow and deliberate and is clearly designed to isolate you from events and make you analyse them with a very clinical eye.
There are also nice individual moments of misery: people are killed for no reason, there are no happy endings for anyone, small children are made to cry whenever possible, people forced to endure awful lives because of poor choices in their past. I'd say they're going for a Chekovian feel to the show if it weren't a massively pretentious thing to say.
The overall plot structure is interesting as well. Politico brother's (Tommy, played by Jason Clarke) increasing descent into corruption, paradoxically brought about by trying to avoid getting tied up with gangster brother's activities, is fascinating to watch. His wife's slow self-destruction, probably brought about by the extreme boredom she faces from not having a job, is equally mesmerising, although it gives Annabeth Gish (Elizabeth Bartlet in The West Wing) little to do but lie around naked, smoking weed.
Gangster brother (Michael, played by Jason Isaacs)'s attempt to piece together his own crew while rejuvenating his neighbourhood is curious to watch. For someone supposedly so sharp, he isn't half thick. He's constantly being followed by police, one of whom is his brother-in-law, and yet he never spots them. He's been away for six years, yet the idea that both people and the neighbourhood might have changed is taking an inordinate amount of time to sink in. And despite claiming that he's changed, he seems very keen to beat up just about every living thing that moves in his general direction.
The trouble is this overall plot structure doesn't include enough elements. It's a character piece, rather than a polemic. Which would be fine, but instead, each episode has been a separate polemic with a separate theme so everything feels a bit disjointed. This week, we'll mostly be looking at labour disputes; next week, we'll be looking at highway construction bills; and so on. The Wire takes a season to focus on an issue, so Brotherhood's slightly quicker attempts to cover as many issues as possible both look and are shallow in comparison.
Nevertheless, just like eating your greens, Brotherhood is probably good for you. It's also nice to see a show that doesn't think its audience has an attention span of ten seconds. You have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it, and it's a bit of acquired taste, but it's definitely worthy of your consideration, I reckon.
- September 18, 2006: Other TV news from last week
Brotherhood's been picked up by FX in the UK.