Boss season 1

It's been lovebombed by America's critics but remains unknown this side of the pond. The Fan Can looks at Boss - the best television series you've never heard of.

 

5 stars

 

 

Kelsey Grammar stars in Starz' Boss

 

Air date: 21 Oct - 9 Dec, 2011, Starz

 

At the end of last year, as is customary, there were the usual 'shows of the year' lists. The likes of Game of Thrones, Community, Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire.

 

But there was another, little-seen show which somehow snuck onto those lists under a lot of viewers' radars.

 

Buried away on a little watched US cable network, and without a UK deal, Boss has defied being from the home of Camelot and Torchwood: Miracle Day to land a clutch of Golden Globe nominations and redefine the career of one of the US's most popular sitcom actors.

 

Set amid the battle for Illinois' governorship and a backdrop of the machinations of the city council, Boss is the anti-West Wing. Full of small-scale, small-town politics, backbiting and screwing people over (literally and metaphorically), it's nasty and cynical - a visual embodiment of the idea that Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.

 

Kelsey Grammer in Boss

And it's bloody marvellous. Not least because, at its heart, is one of the most astonishing performances you'll see an actor give.

 

Post Cheers, Kelsey Grammer seemed to land a number of virtually identical roles. Be it as Dr Frasier Crane, a TV anchor in Back To You or a former Wall Street exec in Hank, he was playing the same part - an affable yet slightly pompous figure.

 

As Tom Kane, embattled mayor of Chicago, a man fighting against his own body as much as the system, and someone who would pimp out his wife and sacrifice his own daughter to stay in power, Grammer gives a career defining turn.

 

Indeed, seeing him portray the swaggering, damaged, cynical and at times brutal Kane in the first episode is as much a revelation as that first time you first saw Robbie Coltrane - the big, lumbering comedian from Alfresco and Tutti Frutti - playing a headcase psychologist in Cracker.

 

It's a career defining turn, allowing him to swing from furious rage to tenderness to cold dispassion, and Grammer inhabits every scene like a brooding atom bomb on a hair trigger.

 

The first season sees opens with Mayor Kane being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia - a degenerative brain condition somewhere between Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. He's forced to keep it secret to preserve his career, but those around him seem to wrapped up in their own problems to even notice his deteriorating condition - his ice queen wife is married to him only for political convenience's sake, his staff are trying to manipulate golden boy Ben Zajac's election campaign, and his rivals are too busy plotting against him to see his obvious weakness.

 

In the meantime, he's also got to deal with local issues - including a pollution scandal dating back to the previous regime and a local journalist determined to bring the Mayor down.

 

A dead marriage in Boss

Oh, and hallucinations. And his daughter being an ex-junkie - which actually turns out to be quite handy when he needs drugs for his condition.

 

There's a lot going on in the eight episodes, as you might imagine. Besides Kane's issues, there's political backstabbing, adultery, pregnancy, gangland feuds, religion and media ethics.

 

And sex. Quite a lot of sex, actually, largely involving Kathleen Robertson - who plays Kane's assistant Kitty, whose sexy librarian look is somewhat shattered by a series of preposterous love scenes.

 

Everyone is uniformly good, from Robertson's conflicted sexpot of an aide to Connie Nielsen as Kane's coolly distant and manipulative wife. But special mention goes to Martin Donovan as Ezra Stone. He's the Josh Liman to Kane's Bartlet, though you couldn't quite imagine Josh organising drug deals, paedophile scandals and assassins to keep the President in office, somehow.

 

It's a brave show that makes its central figures so universally unlikeable. The only vaguely sympathetic figure is Kane's estranged daughter Emma, played with vulnerability by British actress Hannah Ware - a former drug addict who was cut off by her parents as a risk to their political ambitions.

 

Now a member of the clergy, she runs a clinic for the impoverished in the projects, while having an illicit relationship with a local gang drug dealer. As the only person able to offer any kind of assistance or solace to Kane as his health deteriorates, her eventual betrayal - and subsequent fate - is heartbreaking, yet also vital to show just how ruthless everyone else is in this world.

 

Visually, Boss is gorgeous. Chicago is given a claustrophobic yet strangely distanced feel, thanks to a strange, handheld house style full of odd focal tricks set by directors Gus Van Sant and Mario Van Peebles.

 

A shady discussion in Boss

If The West Wing made you feel positive and believe in American politics, Boss will leave you feeling like you need a shower afterwards.

 

At the end of the season Kane's victory has come at such a cost you feel like you should be sympathetic to him, yet he's ultimately such a nasty piece of work, it's like wanting to hug a pitbull for savaging a child to death in order to save them from a paedophile.

 

There's still no word yet as to whether Boss has found a home in the UK - though given Starz' cosy relationship with the Beeb it'd be no surprise to see it pitch up on BBC Four.

 

Wherever it ends up though, it's a show worth going out of your way to catch.

 

Iain Hepburn

 

 

Click here for some bitchin' Boss clippage...

 

 

Boss season 1 - Reviewed
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