Everything Burns in Chicago's Political Fire in "Boss" Review

An ad for Lionsgate TV at the beginning of disc one compares Boss’ Tom Kane to Mad Men’s Don Draper, Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, and Nurse Jackie’s eponymous Jackie Peyton. These are some of the darkest, most compelling protagonists on TV right now (if Damages were produced by Lionsgate, I’m sure Patty Hewes would’ve been included in that group), and Kelsey Grammer’s Kane has definitely earned his inclusion with these characters. This despicable mayor of Chicago worms his way into your heart (just like Don, Nancy, and Jackie) thanks to Grammer’s exceptional—Golden Globe-winning—performance.

The pilot episode opens on a shot of Kane in an abandoned warehouse learning from his neurologist that he has a degenerative brain disorder. This disorder manifests itself in hallucinations, mutterings, and uncontrollable shaking—fortunately, Kane quickly installs cameras in his office so he can review what happens when he mentally checks out. Kane is the most important man in Chicago, and he goes to great lengths to ensure no one learns of his disorder. He is a man who always gets what he wants, and this disorder is the first of many enemies that Kane must face this season.

Kane does not even confide in his wife, Meredith Kane (Connie Nielsen), about his disorder. But this is less surprising when we learn that they live in separate houses. Meredith enjoys the power she has as the mayor’s wife—something she’s been accustomed to as the daughter of the former mayor—and she maintains the illusion of a happy wife to push her own agenda.

There is one person, however, whom Kane reveals his secret to: his daughter, Emma (Hannah Ware). Emma’s been estranged from her parents for the past five years because her drug addiction was damaging to their political reputation. She’s now a pastor and in charge of a free clinic—a dangerous place to be for a recovering drug addict. Kane reveals his vulnerability to her because she is so far removed from the rest of his life (and because she can provide him with undocumented access to the drugs he needs to keep his disorder in check).

The overarching story of the season involves the gubernatorial race and Kane’s attempts to put a puppet of his in office—Alex Zajac (Jeff Hephner). This plot involves the takedown of incumbent nominee Governor McCall Cullen (Francis Guinan). Much of the first half of the season involves the campaigning of these two potential nominees, culminating in a Caesarean coup.

Kane puts one of his most trusted aides Kitty O’Neill (Kathleen Robertson) in charge of Zajac’s campaign. Kitty looks uptight and businesslike on the exterior, but her interior has a kinky side that involves a torrid affair with Zajac composed almost entirely of exhibitionist sex. Kane’s other most trusted aide—and right-hand man—Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan) is involved with maintaining Kane’s grasp on the city as they face scandals on every front.

The most damaging of those scandals involves an Erin Brockovich-style toxic coverup that Kane was involved with when he was the head of the sanitation department. The biggest proponent of this breaking story is the Chicago Tribune journalist Sam Miller (Troy Garity) who has a “bee in his bonnet” for Kane. Miller considers himself the last true journalist seeking to expose corruption; yet, like every single character on this show, Miller betrays his moral center in his pursuance of power.

Gus Van Sant directed the gritty and powerful pilot for the show, setting the mood (and drawing out great performances by the entire cast) that would be flawlessly continued throughout the rest of the season. Everyone on the show is pursuing their own quest for power and taking down (or attempting to) anyone who stands in their way. Although Kane’s Machiavellian control of Chicago has been considered almost admirable because it’s been in the city’s best interest, he begins acting out of pure self-preservation and must face the fallout from the decisions he makes.

Creator and executive producer Farhad Safinia likens this story to the classic Shakespearean tragedies. Chicago is the perfect setting for a kingdom full of corruption, deception, and betrayal. The first few episodes have a slow burn that sets up the stakes for these characters, but once it catches fire you won’t be able to stop watching as everyone gets burned.

Bonus Features

The featurette “The Mayor and His Maker” is an in-depth character analysis of Mayor Tom Kane by Farhad Safinia and Kelsey Grammer.

The discs also include insightful commentary by Farhad Safinia, director of photography Kasper Tuxen, and executive producer Richard Levine for the pilot episode “Listen” and the season finale episode “Choose.”

"Boss: Season One" is on sale July 24, 2012 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Gus Van Sant, Jean De Segonzac, Jim Mckay, Mario Van Peebles. Written by Farhad Safinia, Lyn Greene, Richard Levine, Bradford Winters, Angelina Burnett, . Starring Connie Nielsen, Francis Guinan, Hannah Ware, Jeff Hephner, Kathleen Robertson, Kelsey Grammer, Martin Donovan, Rotimi Akinosho, Troy Garity.

John Keith • Staff Writer

Writer. TV Addict. Bibliophile. Reviewer. Pop Culture Consumer. Vampire Enthusiast. LOST fanatic.


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