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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen it was first announced that Kelsey Grammer had been signed to star in a drama for Starz, many were mildly surprised, thinking, “Am I going to be able to take him seriously as a dramatic actor?” It only takes a moment of contemplation, however, to realize that Grammer's most effective work in comedy has always been the material which he delivers with a certain amount of gravitas, and seeing him play Mayor Tom Kane on “Boss,” there's no question that this ain't no Frasier Crane.
The general premise of “Boss” is established within the opening moments of the series' first episode: Mayor Kane is diagnosed with DLB, a degenerative neurological disorder which will slowly but surely cause him to lose control of his mental faculties. He receives confirmation of this diagnosis in secret, however, and makes the instant decision to tell no one of his plight – from his wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen), on down the line – lest he be driven from office. This course of action proves difficult to maintain, however, as Kane is perpetually aware of what the future holds, leading him to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Emma (Hannah Ware), who, although she's ostensibly clean and sober now, caused a rift in the family with her past drug addictions.
Yes, there's a lot of family ties to “Boss.” The series explores how Emma has, at least to a certain extent, found religion even as she walks a dangerous line of being a former drug addict who's sleeping with a current drug dealer. The relationship between Kane and his wife is tenuous at the best of times, but it grows particularly strained when he refuses to acknowledge the reason for his recent eccentric action. There's also a plotline involving Meredith, whose father is suffering from dementia, and Kane's regular visits to him, which sometime involve using the near-catatonic man as a mute sounding board but often involve a fling with his father-in-law's nursemaid.
Plus, let's not forget about the fact that this is a political drama. There's a great deal going on in Kane's office in the midst of his current campaign for reelection, including Kane's complete sexpot personal aide, Kitty O'Neill, who's regularly slipping between the sheets with Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), the very married candidate for the governor of Illinois. The Kitty & Ben storyline is, from a heterosexual male standpoint, pretty darned sweet – translation: there's a lot of sex and nudity – but by the end of the season, it turns into the most predictable of the bunch. (Far more interesting is the political distance traveled by Ben over the course of these ten episodes.)
As “Boss” begins, viewers may expect to look sympathetically upon Kane, given what the future holds for him, but the series quickly progresses to a point where we learn enough about Kane to realize that he's a far cry from the nicest guy in the world (to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that his hands haven't been clean for quite some time), creating a dichotomy that helps keep “Boss” perpetually interesting. Just when you feel like you should say, “That poor man,” there's a twist that causes you to snap, “That son of a bitch!”
Special Features: The set is pretty thin when it comes to bonus material. Although it offers commentaries from director of photography Kasper Tuxen and executive producers Farhad Safinia and Richard Levine, the only additional item is a featurette called “The Mayor and His Maker,” with Safinia and Grammer.