Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

In Its Second Season, 'Boss' Remains the Darkest Political Drama on Air

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire August 17, 2012 at 11:32AM

"Veep," "Political Animals," "Scandal" -- if you were to take a measure simply from scripted TV, our view of politics has become cynical indeed (and not without justification). But none of them can top Starz drama "Boss," the second season of which starts tonight, August 17th at 9pm, the darkest political portrait of them all.
2
Kelsey Grammer in 'Boss'
Starz Kelsey Grammer in 'Boss'

"Veep," "Political Animals," "Scandal" -- if you were to take a measure simply from scripted TV, our view of politics has become cynical indeed (and not without justification). But none of them can top Starz drama "Boss," the second season of which starts tonight, August 17th at 9pm, the darkest political portrait of them all.

Starring Kelsey Grammer as Tom Kane, the mayor of Chicago, the Farhad Safinia-created "Boss" has such a cold-eyed view of governmental maneuvering that you'd think it's main touchstone is "Game of Thrones" rather than anything related to the contemporary real world -- and not just because, in what's still the show's most indelible image, Kane took delivery of a pair of human ears from someone who'd displeased him in the pilot, and after acknowledging them fed them down the garbage disposal.

Boss 4

And yet "Boss" is more micro than the other current series mentioned above, all of which take place at a White House level -- it deals with Chicago specifics and with the tanglible realities of running a city in addition to the politicking and power plays. One alderman is swayed by an offer of help to prevent the parking in her district from going metered. Kane's treasured project, the one he's been battling for in his time of crisis, is an expansion of the O'Hare International Airport.

While many of the machinations in "Boss" are heightened -- people are whacked, family members brutally turned on for the sake of reputations or individual gain -- other incidents are refreshingly small and specific. It's people, not larger and more abstract parties, that need to be placated with promises and gestures, dinners and public shows of support. The actual grind of getting votes, of dealing with the different communities in the city and their individual, conflicting wants, is a constant murmur in the background, the soundscape against which the show's larger dramas play out.

In its second season, "Boss" continues to be chilly and remote while showing the odd flash of brilliance. The basic stuff of the show is undeniably solid, particularly its distinctive, unusually cinematic look. Executive producer Gus Van Sant, who directed the pilot (tonight's season premiere was helmed by Jim McKay), left stylistic traces to which the show returns, moments of intense, dreamy subjectivity in which the camera closes in on details as if mimicking a character's drifting attention.

Boss 2

It's a quality that matches up with Kane's mental and physical disintegration, with his slipping reality. At the outset of the show, he's diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disorder DLB, an illness he immediately decides to hide from everyone in his life, causing the doctor who's treating him considerable woe to make her keep his secret. He's determined to remain in power for as long as possible not because there's something in particular he wants to achieve, per so, but because it's such a fundamental part of who he is, even as his condition causes hallucinations that pop up like ghosts of his sometime regrettable past.

Grammer is magnetic and impressive as Kane, always dead-eyed underneath the smiling, public persona, the kind of man who'd pat you on the shoulder and ask about your kids while arranging with one of his aides to have your mistress go to the press about you that evening (and almost everyone has a literal or theoretical mistress hiding somewhere waiting to bring them down). But Kane's a difficult protagonist to know what to do with -- he's Walter White if we'd never seen him vulnerable, if we'd caught up with him when he was already a frightening tyrant and then were asked to care when his cancer finally returned and he had to confront his coming death.

In "Boss," the only hope we can have in this bleak picture is for a flicker of idealism, of consistent humanity in an otherwise wholly political animal. Kane is so ruthless that any investment we have in his staying in power is primarily predicated on the other options being just as problematic. Gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), who needs Kane's support but chafes under his heavy-handed control of Zajac's campaign, is the hot-blooded antithesis to Kane's calculation, but easy infidelities and impatience make him seems like someone destined to be broken by a system in which only the cool heads prevail. And every other alderman and aide is relentlessly self-serving, unwilling to think of a larger picture that will do them no good.

Boss 3

It's only the new addition of Sanaa Lathan as the genuinely good-hearted Mona Fredricks who offers a bit a light in the show's dark world. And even she makes a potentially Faustian compromise in choosing to work for Kane because it means having a chance to actually help the community she's trying to protect. And Kane, in return, is fascinated with her and her family in way that's lustful but apparently not sexual -- she's the person that he, in formulating his end game, wants to become again, though he may never have been like her to begin with. It's telling that the major suspense in "Boss" is not whether Kane's secret will be discovered, but whether a legitimately well-intentioned person can survive in the innately morally toxic environment that is the world of politics. 

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, Starz, Boss, Kelsey Grammer, Sanaa Lathan






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More