Starz has gone boldly forward the last few years, and Boss is no exception. Starring Kelsey Grammar as the mayor of Chicago, the show follows his political animal Tom Kane through the trenches of the system both legitimate and illegitimate. But Kane’s problems are internal as well: he’s diagnosed with a degenerative disorder that will strip him of his facilities within five years, and no one knows (in the beginning) except for his trusted doctor.
Even in high definition, these episodes are character-focused, not action-based. Eight episodes comprise the first season as Kane struggles to keep secrets from his wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen), estranged, physician daughter Emma (Hannah Ware), advisor Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan), aide Kitty O’Neill (Kathleen Robertson), his governor candidate Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner),and vie with more specific troubles, like Illinois Governor McCall Cullen (Francis Guinan) and Sentinel reporter Sam Miller (Troy Garrity).
The show isn’t aiming low. It boasts a title track by Robert Plant (”Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down”) and direction from Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk). We’re not talking about lightweights, are we? No, we’re talking about a complete focus on a corrupt politician who is examining his life in a new way, a new crucible, an absolute crush of politics, tension, and personality. And it’s all set up in the focus on Grammar.
This isn’t my typical drama. I’m no political animal myself, but if you’re seeking a grittier version of The West Wing or Political Animals then this is probably your speed. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of people to actually like, making it comparable to Breaking Bad or maybe Mad Men. Sure, the characterizations are interesting, and even when I haven’t liked a Grammar show, it’s impossible to turn my eyes away.
Does power corrupt? Or do people allow corruption? While there are people who help Kane for their own reasons, covering up his actions or turning aside from marks of his illness, there are people who allow for his out-of-control behavior, enabling his ascent (or is it descent) to power and authority. Kane isn’t above violence, bullying, or vulgarity, and his need to be in control knows no bounds. But in the end, he’s taken on a cycle that we can’t see leading to ultimate happiness: he’s too absorbed in his pursuits to take care of himself.
When we become too consumed by our pursuits and not about our journey, we lose sight of our purpose and the journey. We can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for Kane to deal with the effects of his illness, let alone living his life in the public while keeping that secret. But we all have secrets we should come clean about; we all have something which makes our life worse because we don’t confront it head on. And we know that we eventually crash and burn, just like Kane will… someday.