Showtime's Brotherhood, about a blue-collar Rhode Island family with one sibling in local government (Jason Clarke) and one in the local Mob (Jason Isaacs), has always been as interested in social drama as the vagaries of Providence politics or Irish-American gangs. Season 3 digs deep into the series' working-class roots; at points it feels like a rather ingenious election-season feel-your-pain ad. Everyone is struggling to make ends meet; even former gang head Freddie Cork (Kevin Chapman) is actually forced to sell cars at one of his cover dealerships. State Rep. Tommy Caffee (Clarke) and his melancholy wife, Eileen (Annabeth Gish), are challenged in yet a new way: She's expecting child No. 4 a boy, finally, for Tommy and working at a family-aid center for the poor. ''The land of futility? I love it,'' sad-hearted Eileen says without irony. Between bitterly picking up dry cleaning and getting dinner ready, the ultimate not-so-supermom must tell pregnant women they aren't eligible for pre-natal help because they have no green card. Meanwhile, the formidable Caffee matriarch Rose (Fionnula Flanagan) is dealing with her own health-care issues. Sick as hell, she finds herself awash in doctors' bills, just to get a hint of a diagnosis. One excruciating scene follows a weakened Rose on the phone trying to navigate a customer-service voice system to order prescriptions pills (''I didn't quite understand your question,'' the flat female recorded voice repeatedly insists). A lot of people have been mangled and murdered on Brotherhood, but this was one of the series' more harrowing scenes.
It's not all lower-middle-class woe. More drastic machinations are afoot: New Mob leader Michael (Isaacs) does a very bad thing to a very important person; troubled cop Declan (Ethan Embry) heads a bribery inquiry that could undo either Caffee; and Tommy may have found a get-rich opportunity in (shades of The Wire) the city's waterfront project. ''It's always about money. And if it's not about money, it's about money,'' Tommy says, in what could be the show's mantra. There's no one in the broke-down world of Brotherhood who doesn't need some cash and a friendly pint.
If Brotherhood isn't as brilliant as The Wire, it's just as believable. The cast is so solid, you'd never guess they hail from England (Isaacs), Australia (Clarke), Ireland (Flanagan), Hollywood royalty (Gish), and bad teen comedies (the spectacular Embry). They feel like they've always been sitting in this sad little corner of Providence, waiting for the show to start. A–