October 23, 2011

TV: Boss (Starz, Fri 10)

Starz takes a shot at serious drama with Boss. Kelsey Grammer stars as Tom Kane, mayor of Chicago, and in the opening scene, he is learning that he has Lewy-Body disease, which combines all the worst aspects of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. He probably has 3-5 years to live, and will likely lose control of mind and body within a year or two. That news makes Kane determined to accomplish as much as possible while he still can, and to leave as big a legacy as possible.

There's a fine supporting cast, including Connie Nielsen as Kane's wife, Kathleen Robertson and Martin Donovan as his political aides, Jeff Hephner and Francis Guinan as candidates for governor, and Troy Garity as an investigative reporter. But it's Grammer's show, and he's terrific, in a performance that will remind you what a fine dramatic actor he is; not once during the first episode did I feel like I was watching Mayor Frasier Crane.

It's an entertaining political drama that is about the workings and process of politics more than it is about political issues, and that isn't afraid to be wonky; it appears that the principal political subplot is going to be about eminent domain, of all things, as Kane fights to begin construction on an expansion at O'Hare Airport. Some of the subplots don't come into focus very well yet; Kane's estranged daughter (Hannah Ware), an Episcopalian priest who runs a free clinic, seems particularly adrift from the central story at this point.

What's interesting is that the medical story that opens the series is not all that important. Some of Kane's behavior is driven by it -- we see him arranging to get black-market meds in an attempt to keep his condition a secret -- and it makes him an even more driven man than he would normally be, but I'd be perfectly happy if this were just a political drama about the scheming and conniving of a healthy Tom Kane. The show itself is not quite up to the level of Grammer's star turn, but there's enough there to keep me watching for a while to see what develops.

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