Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 19, 2012)
Across his lengthy television career, Kelsey Grammer became best-known for comedic parts in series such as Cheers, The Simpsons and Frazier. With his newest TV endeavor, though, Grammer goes for a grittier role as the lead in the Starz series Boss.
The program deals with Chicago politics and casts Grammer as Mayor Tom Kane, the head honcho in the Windy City. This Blu-ray includes all eight of Season One’s episodes, which I’ll examine in broadcast order. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray packaging.
Listen: “After the discovery of a serious medical condition, Mayor Tom Kane must set things in motion for the upcoming gubernatorial primary while attempting to reconnect with his distant wife Meredith (Connie Nielsen) and estranged daughter Emma (Hannah Ware).”
Pilot episodes have a tough task, as they need to create a brand-new world for us and also intrigue us enough to make us want to return. “Listen” doesn’t create the most impressive initial program, but it does enough to create interest. It sets up various characters and situations in a quick, efficient manner and hints at future developments well enough to make it a solid launch to the series.
Reflex: “A new political force enters the race with only a few weeks until the primary. When the City Council stands in Kane’s way, Kane and his crew will have to flex their political muscles to stay on top.”
Two episodes into Boss and I suspect I’ve identified the series’ weakest link: Emma. Perhaps subsequent shows will better develop/integrate her character, but right now she feels disconnected to everything else and she doesn’t mesh. Despite those moments, “Reflex” helps move things along pretty well, especially when it digs into the politics and Tom’s continued physical decline.
Swallow: “Kane has problems adjusting to his new medical reality. An embarrassing media storm catches Governor Cullen (Francis Guinan) off guard, while Miller (Troy Garity) stumbles upon a story that seeps much deeper than he imagined.”
So far Boss works on two different levels. When it deals with politics, it’s quite good; it gives us an involving take on the behind-the-scenes machinations of the political world. When it goes into the personal lives of its characters, it fares less well, as it seems buried in usual TV material like drugs and adultery. That trend holds true here, so expect a spotty show. At least it gives us a little much-needed humor.
Slip: “Kane finds himself starting to lose control, both politically and personally, as his supporters begin to question their confidence in him. Zajac (Jeff Hephner) ventures into uncharted territory while campaigning, as Miller continues to dig for answers.”
The longer this season progresses, the more I wish Boss hadn’t included the concept of Kane’s deteriorating health. Frankly, this feels like a gimmick to add some gratuitous drama. The basic political content boasts enough natural juice; it doesn’t require the complications of Kane’s decline to make it go. Perhaps the producers thought they needed this twist to differentiate the series from others about politics, but I don’t agree.
That said, “Slip” has enough meat to make it worthwhile. It develops some parts of the narrative well and throws out some curveballs, too, such as the way that Miller’s area progresses. Halfway through Season One, I can’t say I find myself fascinated by Boss, but I’m still with it enough to move onto the second half.
Remembered: “After long-buried information resurfaces, Kane and his camp find themselves battling the media for control of public perception.”
Though some personal issues still get attention – mostly connected to Kane’s illness – “Remembered” focuses more on the politics than any episode to date. In my book, that makes it one of the most interesting shows, as it advances various plot elements in a substantive manner. I prefer this program’s balance, as the “human pieces” work better when they stay in the minority.
Spit: “Kane takes an unannounced break from City Hall as his political image hits an all-time low. Kitty (Kathleen Robertson), at an emotional impasse, makes a bold move while Meredith, increasingly suspicious of Kane’s behavior, seeks opportunities of her own.”
“Spit” continues the improved balance found in “Remembered”. While it still develops some of the personal areas, it focuses on the politics. That makes it a good quality episode, as it advances the series’ general narrative and moves us toward an expected climax by the end of the season.
Stasis: “Just days away from the election, Kane slowly regains control over City Hall. Though a swift political move will help identify his adversaries, will doing the unthinkable improve his public image in time?”
With only one more episode remaining in the season, “Stasis” needs to set things up for the finale. It manages to do so in a positive manner, as it delivers the appropriate intrigue and suspense. Penultimate shows are rarely dynamic on their own, but this one does its job – and delivers a pretty big bombshell, as we see the extent to which Kane will go to keep his job.
Choose: “Election Day. The race is close, and while the candidates campaign, Kane and Stone (Martin Donovan) must do their part to turn the gears of the political machine. Emma’s world is turned upside-down, while Meredith must go to great lengths to prove her allegiance to Kane.”
After some of the big news found in “Stasis”, “Choose” might come across as a little anti-climactic – but only a little. It still offers some major developments, as we find out who plotted against Kane throughout the season, and it gives the year a good conclusion – all while it sets us up for more in Season Two. It becomes more than a little melodramatic at times, but given the series’ semi-operatic feel, it fits.