It should seem more bizarre to see Kelsey Grammer grimacing and striding around in such an aggressively dramatic role as Mayor Tom Kane — what with his decades of pretentious buffoonery on Cheers and Frasier — but somehow it just feels natural. Grammer is clearly the heart of Boss, which debuted on Starz last night, and after a string of failed sitcoms, he might have found just where he needed to be. Like bar-buddy Ted Danson, gritty, high-powered television drama becomes him. Now all we need is an FX series starring John Ratzenberger as a merciless drug kingpin.
From what we saw last night, Kane is the kind of ruthless, I-do-it-because-I-have-to corrupt politician that for some reason has become pop culturally synonymous with the city of Chicago. I’d like to think that most mayors aren’t given sliced-off ears in tasteful mahogany boxes at charity functions, but who knows these days. He’s certainly compelling enough as a character to give you the sense that even if certain peripheral narratives fade out disappointingly as the first season progresses, there will still be something here worth watching. Personally, I nominate Kane’s daughter’s drug problem as the plotline most likely to immediately overstay its welcome.
It’s interesting that not much attention is given to politics as the public knows it. Kane’s party affiliation is never even overtly mentioned, although it’s probably safe to say that he is a Democrat considering that Chicago hasn’t picked Red over Blue since 1931. But the show is more about the backroom dealings, the trickle-down threats, the trickle-up bribes, and the survivalist mentality of “you scratch my back, I stab yours” than it is about scoring political points. It will also be interesting to see how Kane’s illness plays into the season to come, whether it will be more of a test of willpower like President Bartlett’s multiple sclerosis in The West Wing, or a grim inevitability that makes permissible all things like in Breaking Bad. One thing’s for sure: Morally speaking, Kane doesn’t have quite quite as far to fall as Walter White.
Those of you who caught it, what did you think of the first episode? Does Boss show promise?