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FROM THIS EPISODE

Join the Brotherood

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore Watching Television for KCRW and brimming with glad tidings. Listen: A splendidnew series, Brotherhood, is premiering on Showtime Sunday at 10pm.

I'll admit it: As a TV critic, I get certain jollies slamming lousy programs. Panning a show sure beats paying for therapy.

But what I really thrive on -- and I hope other critics would say the same -- is great TV. When I get an early peek at something wonderful, I'm overjoyed to be trumpeting the news.

Well, Brotherhood is wonderful. Consider me a criticfulfilled.

Set, and filmed, in Providence, Rhode Island, Brotherhood focuses on Tommy Caffee, a shrewd, ambitious but upright politician and family man who has plenty of challenges representing his working-class district, while supporting his wife and three daughters on a limited income.

Then in a flash, his pressures multiply. His brother, Michael, arrives home as if returning from the dead after seven years. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Michael Caffee is a crook, and thanks to the handy death of a rival crime boss, he's back to claim his corner of the local underworld.

It should come as no surprise that Michael and Tommy will have trouble coexisting in this cozy metropolis, not to mention within their tight Irish-Catholic family under the watchful eye of their domineering mother, whose dinner table they'll now be sharing every Sunday.

But the wonder of Brotherhood is that, by golly, it's full of surprises. Much more than a Cain-and-Abel tale, or an Irish twist on The Sopranos, it's a rich exploration of loyalty embattled by cross-purposes. The viewer is immersed in a community whose members feel steadfast allegiances, even as, too often, they clash.

For all of Tommy's idealism and Michael's brutishness, this is not a black-and-white saga. Operating in the real world, Tommy has to make compromises, and does. Meanwhile, Michael espouses brotherly devotion. He has a vision of doing his mobster thing without harming Tommy's career.

You'll root for Tommy: He's championing the American Dream, and you ache for him to make a go of it. But Michael -- indeed nearly everyone in this close-knit society -- are sufficiently full-bodied characters, with strengths as well as weaknesses, that you'll find yourself rooting for them too.

A nice outcome for Brotherhood would be a state of equilibrium somehow restored -- room enough and power enough for all. But don't bet on it. What happens instead is what drives this drama through 11 fascinating hours.

Brotherhood is beautifully produced, marvelously written and boasts a uniformly solid cast led by Jason Clarke as Tommy and Jason Isaacs as Michael.

And let me add that I'm not celebrating this show based on one or a few initial episodes, and beyond that exercising blind faith. No, the fine folks at Showtime furnished all 11 episodes months back, and after an early glimpse at the first one, I was addicted. Over the next couple of evenings, I binged on them all.

Then a few days ago, just to brush up, I revisited the first two episodes, and -- same thing. Hooked. Over the weekend, I watched the whole season again. So trust me when I tell you, this show is good to the last drop.

Could I be any clearer? I'm a happy critic! In fact, the only way I could be happier is for you to check out Brotherhood too.

Watching Television for KCRW -- now don't let me down -- this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.

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