If you like The Good Wife but wish the show focused all of its attention on sleazy Peter Florrick instead of splitting time with procedural cases and love triangles, or if you enjoy all of the corruption and cinematography of Boardwalk Empire but would prefer that you didn't have to deal with so many annoying characters, Boss might just be your dream show. And yes, I realize that I am recommending an intense drama on Starz, a network known for guilty pleasure original series that have copious amounts of blood and nudity (there's only one scantily clad sex scene in the pilot episode), or shows with a sci-fi bent. I also realize that I'm recommending a drama starring Kelsey Grammer. What can I say? Evil mayor is a mighty good look for him.
The pilot was totally captivating, and caught me off guard, as I was ready to just pat Starz on the back and say, "Nice effort to step into AMC or FX territory, but keep trying." They really nailed it out of the gate on this one, and not a little of that is because of Grammer, who is just utterly fascinating as the mayor of Chicago. Tom Kane's dealing with running a city, a degenerative neurological disease, a complex marriage to his bitter and ambitious wife (Connie Nielsen), reestablishing a relationship with his estranged daughter and pesky garbage disposal that has issues chopping up human cartilage. No one ever said that being mayor of a city was easy.
Boss nails complicated political issues in ways that a show like The Good Wife really doesn't have the time to. Sure, they touch on things in the realm of public service with Peter and Eli, but because that series has so many lawyers, researchers and children to service, there's not a whole lot of in depth look at the complicated political system that is Chicago. And since The Chicago Code got cancelled, we don't even get to see the whole Alderman system displayed on television anymore. Here, the city's inner workings really have a lot of room to be shown off, and while there are some family issues tackled, many of the major personal problems in Kane's life stem from the fact that he's in this political office.
And while Boardwalk Empire does the corruption that The Good Wife could use a healthy dose of, it has some truly annoying characters and some pacing issues. Boss isn't lacking in either so far. The pilot alone moved along at a speedy clip, and wasn't all flash and taking down people who posed a threat to the mayor's authority. Some of the best moments were quiet and uncomfortable exchanges between Kane and his unhappy wife talking about nothing. Even his estranged daughter staring at an artfully filmed phone message was great. I commend this show for finding a way to make each character compelling right out of the gate and make me care about what happens to them, or at least be intrigued about how they fit into the puzzle. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to find myself caring about the fate of certain characters on Boardwalk Empire.
And, like Boardwalk Empire, Boss has a fantastic look going for it. With director Gus Van Sant behind the camera for the pilot, this show gives Chicago a washed-out gray look that well services the material at hand. It gives the dark and moody climate necessary for this dark subject matter, and Van Sant also made some great choices with tight close ups. It goes to show what a strong director can do for a series, and now I'm just hoping that the subsequent episodic directors follow his lead. If they can, Starz might just be on the way to getting a reputation for some grown up shows that don't have slow-motion blood splatter or characters with immortality, and instead show some of the gorier bits off-screen and deal with the very real mortality of just one man.
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