August 19, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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BOSS:  Friday 10PM on Starz

WHERE WE WERE:  In a state of depression.  By the end of last season, Chicago Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer) had systematically murdered, driven away, destroyed and/or humiliated anyone who even looked like they might get in his way.  Among the victims:   (now-deceased) closest aide Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan), (now-jailed, at his orders) daughter Emma (Hannah Ware),  wife Meredith (Connie Nielsen), aide Kitty O’Neill (Kathleen Robertson), State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), and an assortment of aldermen, political opponents, and sseemingly just about anyone in or near Chicago.  Oh, and doctors, because apart from everything else, Kane is slowly dying of Lewy Body Dementia, a neurological disease that’s gradually destroying his brain and that he’s desperately trying to keep secret.

WHERE WE ARE:  Not very far from where we left the Mayor and his targets.  Kane’s been warned by his neurologist (the one he terrorized out of town last season) that his hallucinations will only get worse, and indeed, he’s started seeing Ezra Stone’s shadow everywhere.  Meanwhile, he faces a new political challenger:  Mona Fredericks (Sanaa Lathan), a smart aide to Alderman Ross (James Vincent Meredith), whom Kane disgraced last season.  On the upside–from Kane’s point of view–crusading journalist Sam Miller (Troy Garity), who propelled himself into an editor’s job at his newspaper last season, is discovering it’s a lot harder to crusade when the publisher doesn’t want advertisers alienated.  But lest things get too temporarily cheerful, in the closing moments of the season premiere, juat after Kane triumphantly delivered his ground-breaking speech at the new O’Hare Airport construction project, his daughter’s drug-dealer boyfriend Darius (Rotimi Akinosho) fired shots–which hit Meredith instead of Kane.

BOSS is about as dark as television gets.  Despite the presence of Grammer in the leading role, it’s essentially humorless, and each episode is concerned almost exclusively with the ways his corrupt, despotic Mayor ruins the lives of others.  Unlike other morally troubling protagonists on cable (Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey,  Nucky Thompson, etc), Kane is almost never given even a shred of humanity, or even any motivations for his actions beyond the grim desire to win at all times and at any cost.  For Season 2, series creator Farhad Safinia has been replaced as showrunner by Dee Johnson, whose credits run the gamut from ER to Army Wives to The Good Wife, but whatever the goal may have been for that change, the season premiere, written by Johnson and directed by Jim McKay, is very much of a piece with Season 1.

As an anti-The West Wing where no one ever acts for the public good and evil is ever ascendant, Boss may well be more accurate than previous depictions of real politics on American television.  It’s also an exceedingly difficult sit, one that feels slower-paced and more repetitious than it is because of its sheer relentlessness.  The show doesn’t even offer the comfort of allegory–its Chicago is simply hell on earth.

Boss is a prestige play for Starz, one that gets low ratings but attracts the kind of critical attention and awards consideration that can draw in and retain subscribers.  It’s admirably well produced and skillfully acted, especially by Grammer, and one can’t fault its commitment to a very particular, if limited, narrative vision of the political landscape.  Unlike successful politicians in real life, though, it’s not a show that would win many enthusiastic votes.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."