TV Series Review: Boss

BOSSby Brad Nelson   6/27/14
Coming out as “gay” is often trumpeted as being brave, when it is little more than playing the victim or sympathy card and waiting for the usual accolades. But Kelsey Grammer did something far more audacious and courageous: He came out as a Republican.

Even more interesting is that Grammar plays the Democrat mayor of Chicago’s machine-politics in this STARZ series that ran from 2011-2012. Its life was cut short after two seasons. But it can be watched satisfyingly as a whole. The ending doesn’t leave you hanging, although not all storylines, of course, are cleared up. But this series does certainly leaving you wanting more because of its sheer quality.

And it may leave you, much like the series Breaking Bad, wanting to take a shower. Boss is not suitable for children. It’s filled with foul language and many sexual situations, some of them obviously gratuitous.

I would say that Breaking Bad, at best, is a guilty pleasure and therefore has little or no intrinsic value (and probably falls at least slightly on the negative side…thus the need for a shower). Boss, on the other hand, can be seen as a sort of civics lesson. There is good to come out of the bad, even if it is about taking the blinkers from your eyes regarding politicians and the political process.

Chicago politics may be tougher and more corrupt than most. But there is little doubt that this is what politics, in general, looks like from the behind the scenes, particularly big-time politics at the state or national level. If you are a citizen of these United States, you are being played by people who are good at crafting images and manipulating emotions. And some of the finer moments of this series delve into this craft, although a dark craft it may be.

It takes all of five seconds to forget Kelsey Grammer as the affable Dr. Frasier Crane. In Boss, Grammer convincingly plays a powerful Chicago mayor, Tom Kane, who has a Crane-like affability on the outside (when in front of the cameras) and is a ruthless tiger outside the view of the public. Not only is he convincing when switching between both personas, he also has overlaid on his character a degenerative brain disorder. He has delusions much like a schizophrenic, and the disease is progressing.

Series such as this are never terribly unique in regards to the plot. They are usually about everyone trying to screw everyone else (figuratively or literally). It’s political sociopathy, in this case, rather than criminal sociopathy as in Breaking Bad. But what sets any series apart, given the nihilism that is typical of the modern cable series, are the characters. And from top to bottom, Boss is filled with good ones that are well-acted (with the exception of the actress who plays Kane’s daughter).

Kathleen Robertson stars as the political operative, Kitty O’Neill, and is second only to Grammer in the amount of screen time she gets. Connie Nielsen plays Mayor Kane’s wife, Meredith Kane. Much like Kathleen Robertson’s performance, she carves out a believable character, never over-acts, and fills out a character that is as steely in both her ambition and cold-heartedness.

Rounding out the major characters is Jeff Hephner as Ben Zajac, the good-guy family man who is running for governor against the Chicago-machine incumbent. He lives off of his superior charm and likeability. But will his multiple reckless affairs bring him down?

Mayor Kane plays the most despicable, power-hungry, unethical politician that you can imagine. He’s good at manipulating people, making deals, and destroying enemies when needed. And you know this is what Bill Clinton looked like behind the scenes, as well as many other politicians, of whichever party. It is likely true that in politics the biggest bullshitters tend to make it to the top. Therefore a disengaged electorate can be played like a fiddle. And we are. And you see how this happens in this series. Some of its plots are plucked right out the newspaper headlines.

Along with the British series, House of Cards, Boss is a fictional inside look at politics. Surely not all politics or all politicians look and behave as they do in these two series. But I believe that these two series capture the essence of the people who too often generously portray themselves as “dedicated public servants” when they are, in reality, just professional parasites on the public good.

Boss is streamable on Netflix. If you liked House of Cards (at least the British version), you will like this.

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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6 Responses to TV Series Review: Boss

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I assume Boss is somewhat based on, or at least inspired by, Mike Royko’s book of the same title, about former Mayor Richard Daley (the elder). This wasn’t one of his satirical works (though he did plenty of that about Daley). Interestingly, Daley in 1960 was mainly concerned with defeating the Cook County Attorney, who had begun to hit the machine where it hurt. (Adamowski, the loser, proceeded to run against Daley in the 1963 mayoral race and nearly won.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ve read that it’s loosely based upon the book, Timothy. And the Cook County Attorney in this series (States Attorney Doyle) certainly jibes with the one in real life. He was (eventually) going after Kane. But alliances changed so often in this series, it strained credibility a bit. Several things did, and they are obvious. But the writing is generally pretty good. But as usual with these cable series, it’s just one back-stabbing after another. But this series easily holds up through two seasons.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I recall that Adamowski started out as a Daley Democrat. For that matter, the Republicans elected the County Attorney in 1972. I have no idea what he accomplished in terms of pursuing corrupt officials, but Daley by then was invincible politically. Much was accomplished by federal attorney Big Jim Thompson, who parlayed his pursuit of corruption into the governorship (and held on an extra term when the Democrats self-destructed in 1986, nominating LaRouchies for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          There’s one scene in particular in this series that is very good. It’s where Grammer (Mayor Kane) is justifying to himself his need for power and control. After all, look at all the good he’s done.

          It’s a great view into the mindset of politicians of either party, and of any time and place. They really do view themselves as indispensable. Again, I really do think politics tends to attracts the biggest bullshitters, liars, and narcissists. Yes, we need them (elected officials), but we should never lose site of the nature of the beast.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    How does the saying go? “Laws and sausages are two things the public don’t want to see being made”. Expand that to anything to do with politics.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That’s a good saying, Mr. Kung. In this case I would suggest it’s a good thing to see how law is made. And the advantage of the sausage is that you can eat it and it doesn’t waste your money. If we could just elect sausages, we then might have something.

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