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Dark, smart 'Brotherhood' aims for higher viewership

September 28, 2007|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

In Providence, R.I., people think "Brotherhood" is one of the more successful shows on television.

"Everybody has watched the show, watched the DVDs, watched it on-demand. They know every detail," said Jason Isaacs, who plays Michael Caffee, the criminal son in an emotionally intense and morally compromised Irish American family who was left for dead in Season 1. Jason Clarke, who plays his brother Tommy Caffee, an ambitious politician, marched in a Fourth of July parade with the real-life Providence mayor.

"We've got half the state Legislature wanting to do cameos," said creator Blake Masters. The mayor and the speaker of the House of Representatives have already appeared. "They love us," he said.

Critics have also adored the Showtime series that will start its second season Sunday night. This year, it won a George Foster Peabody Award. But like other dark, smart shows (HBO's "The Wire," for instance), it hasn't attracted a widespread viewership. Its average nightly ratings the first season never broke 600,000. But Showtime is hoping to change that by moving the show from summer to fall to pair it with "Dexter," the network's most-watched series.

"Critically, 'Brotherhood' surpasses 'Dexter,' " said Robert Greenblatt, the network's president of entertainment. " 'Dexter' will act as a lead-in and hopefully introduce more viewers to the series."

CBS, Showtime's sister network, may also cross-promote the show, as it did with the "Brotherhood" pilot last summer.

"Brotherhood," a rich character drama frequently likened to a novel, might be called "low concept," at least compared with Showtime's flashier shows such as "Weeds," featuring a pot-selling suburban mom, and "Californication," about a high-flying novelist with writer's block. In the realistically political "Brotherhood," saints can be sinners, sinners can be saints, and most episodes include violence, the state's House of Representatives, drugs, a sit-down dinner at home, sex, betrayal and a brooding, cloudy landscape shot in HD.

Greenblatt speculated that the extreme violence in last year's pilot may have turned off some viewers. But the writers and cast members insisted all changes in Season 2 were made for creative reasons and not "to appease the ratings gods."

In shooting the second season, Clarke said that cast members argued about creative differences -- the scripts were more emotional and the episodes more exhausting to complete. Isaacs' character, Michael, for instance, will return with a disabling brain injury.

Passions ran so high that "we were often at each other's throats," Isaacs said. "There are a lot of strong characters in the show, and we would fight for what we thought was right for the story."

No one would offer examples of the disputes and said they remained high-minded. "Nobody punched anybody in the mouth," Masters said.

"Sparks always make things better when it's about the story," Isaacs said. "They're not fun, but they make things better."

The cast added two members this season: BrĂ­an F. O'Byrne will play Colin Carr, a charming but dangerous cousin from Ireland who moves in with the family, and Janel Moloney will play a mysterious woman from the wealthy side of town who enters a secret relationship with the self-righteous Tommy.

Writer Henry Bromell admitted Season 1 was "too dour." Season 2 will have more humor -- although much of it is the dark humor of Belfast, he said. The cousin, Masters said, "embraces and enjoys life." Whereas Michael and Tommy try to keep their lives under tight control, Colin has no ulterior motives. "They're playing chess all the time. Colin is playing pingpong."

While Tommy's dark side expands, Michael becomes a shade more likable. As he copes with his brain injury, his relationship with his girlfriend and her child will deepen.

The actors understand that as their characters change, so might their status in town.

Clarke said he was a bit concerned that his character might be in trouble as he succumbs to temptation in the statehouse as well as the bedroom. "I don't think anybody empathizes with a hypocrite," he said.

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lynn.smith@latimes.com

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'Brotherhood'

Where: Showtime

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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