TV: 'Brotherhood' Is So Bad It's Good

This is a good time to be a bad guy. Tony Soprano, Dr. House, "The Shield," "Deadwood"—the badder the lead character, the bigger the ratings and acclaim. So it's not surprising that someone has taken the anti-hero worship to the next level.

Showtime's "Brotherhood" (debuting July 9) is a drama that orbits around two bad-boy polestars. Tommy Caffee (Jason Clarke) is a conniving state assemblyman in working-class Providence, R.I. His brother Michael (Jason Isaacs) runs the neighborhood mob. You can already see the central conflict—a sibling rivalry on opposite sides of the law. Except it's hard to tell who's the bigger hood in "Brotherhood." Michael may cut off a rival's ear to make a point, but Tommy will cut a backroom deal to run a highway through his constituents' homes if it means more power and money for him. It's tempting to say that both brothers have holes in their souls, but that would imply that they have souls at all.

What they do have is family, which is the place where bad-guy shows always turn to sand off the rough edges. Tommy is of course a great dad and loving husband; Michael is very attached to his mother, Rose (Fionnula Flanagan)—he feels so bad about spending seven years on the lam without even contacting her, he gives her a wad of cash. She's thrilled by the buyout—until she tries to use a $50 bill and discovers it's counterfeit. Rose, by the way, never complains. Instead, she generously hands the phony money to a neighborhood friend whose son just died. "I insist," says Rose, who's a piece of work herself. "It's of no use to me."

"Brotherhood" revels in exposing hypocrisy, from pious politicians to ruthless mama's boys, and much of the show's fun comes from watching them twist their perverted moral codes to fit their appetites. None of this is exactly new—"The Sopranos" covers much the same ground, and with more psychological depth. But "Brotherhood" may be the darker show. Everyone in Providence is corrupted, even Tommy's doting wife, Eileen (Annabeth Gish), becomes a lonely, philandering drug addict. That bleakness sometimes feels oppressive. After a while, you really want someone to root for, not to mention a sense that the world isn't so dreadful.

But "Brotherhood" does a fine job evoking a sense of place, and the cast is first rate, especially Clarke, an Australian who does an impeccable New England accent. Random thought: Why are so many of the best TV bad guys—Hugh Laurie of "House," Ian McShane of "Deadwood"—foreigners playing American? Lou Dobbs, please investigate.

TV: 'Brotherhood' Is So Bad It's Good | News