Monday, July 10, 2006


Tonight was the premiere of Showtime's new series "Brotherhood". Shot entirely in Rhode Island, the series is loosely based on the real life Bros. Bulger (politician Billy and gangster Whitey) in Massachusetts. So how was it?

The premise of the show is this: Tommy Caffee is a state representative (and budget committee chairman) from a Providence neighborhood known in the show only as "the Hill". His brother, Michael, is a mobster who has returned after seven years on the lam. Tommy peddles influence and state contracts in the State House, while Tommy deals dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

When Michael returns, the Rhode Island state police and FBI want to know what's going on, and whether or not Tommy has any knowledge of his brother's criminal activities. Meanwhile, Tommy's feeling the heat in the press from his close ties to corrupt union officials, and there's a murder making his life difficult. The plot and action don't stray far from The Sopranos, even if the quality of scriptwriting does.

Brotherhood spends a lot of time trying to establish Rhode Island bonafides, but there are problems. The two biggest are:

1: As usual, Hollywood has a hard time with New England accents. With the exception of Fionulla Flanagan (who plays the family matriarch), the "Rhode Island accents" are the usual Hollywood misappropriation of the Boston accent. You can learn more about what an actual Rhode Island accent sounds like here.

2: The Caffees are more Irish than the actual Irish themselves, and the fictional neighborhood of "The Hill" (filmed in the neighborhood where I actually live - Federal Hill) is presented as an Irish, working class neighborhood. As it actually happens, Providence does not have a strong Irish heritage, and no predominantly Irish neighborhoods. Federal Hill is famous for once being Little Italy, and the headquarters of the New England branch of La Cosa Nostra, and nowadays, is home largely to Guatemalans, Dominicans, and upwardly mobile gay professionals. If the show's creators had made the show's characters Italian or Portuguese, it certainly would have made the show more accurately reflect Providence's demographics. Then again, if the family were Italian, the perception of this show being a cheap copy of The Sopranos would be just that much more accurate.

What does the show get right?

First of all, the show correctly (however unfortunately) gets the feel of politics in Rhode Island right. Though Tommy Caffee is a relatively big fish in a small pond, and because his committee deals with state contracts, he's constantly in demand. Furthermore, the show correctly details the horribly incestuous relations between the state, big labor, and organized crime - a relationship that has earned Rhode Island a reputation for having the most crooked politics in America.

Secondly, the show is filmed entirely on location in Providence, much of it near where I live. I found myself able to identify nearly every place on the screen, from Symposium Books downtown, to the Green Bar overlooking routes 6 and 10 on Westminster St., to Olneyville New York system, the show gets the look of Providence exactly right.

Will I be watching it again? I don't know. I already like The Sopranos, so it's hard to get too excited about the plot and script, both of which try to hard to emulate The Sopranos. Will the locale be enough to hold my attention for long? I suppose I'll watch the second episode and go on from there.

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