Boss is a political drama series starring Kelsey Grammer as the mayor of Chicago. The show was broadcast on Starz and initially arrived with so much confidence that the network greenlit a second season a few weeks before the first season even premiered. I would not necessarily say that Starz got a little ahead of themselves, but Boss is merely a series that has a lot of good to sometimes great things in it, but does not quite reach event television for me. The show wants to be stylish and interesting, but only pulls off one of those things effectively the majority of the time, while not quite providing me with characters that extend beyond caricature. Still, I did find the series watchable enough, with a Blu-ray set that delivers a strong audio/video presentation, yet only a smattering of extras. Read on to learn more about the first season of Boss and how the Blu-ray faired.
As mentioned, Boss revolves around Kelsey Grammer as Tom Kane, the mayor of Chicago. As the series begins, we learn that Kane has been diagnosed with DLB, which is a form of dementia that will lead to neurological problems and other health issues, before finally being the cause of his death. Kane conceals this information from everyone, with the exceptions of his own physician and eventually his estranged daughter, Emma (Hanna Ware), who he is hoping to build back up a relationship with. Others close to Kane include his wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen), who is actually the daughter of the former mayor and is merely married to Kane for the sake of appearances. Then there are Kane’s closest advisors, Kitty O’Neill (Kathleen Robertson) and Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan), who are ready and willing to follow Kane’s decisions, even as they notice changes in the way their boss has been acting.
The arc of the season is largely focused around State Treasurer Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), who is being backed by Kane to become the next Governor of Illinois. As this is occurring, we learn more about how Kane handles things in his position as mayor along with the other political dealings that go on behind the scenes. Various alliances form throughout the season, with control shifting to different parties. At the same time, we see a lot of a journalist for The Sentinel, Sam Miller (Troy Garity), who is looking to learn a lot more about some shady actions and activities that Tom Kane may be a part of. And there is also plenty to watch involving the youngest Kane, Emma, who is going through her own issues as the estranged daughter, who has been trying to reform her past ways. There are quite a few things going on in the Windy City in the way of drama and political dogfights.
All eight episodes of the first season are of course available in the set:
I guess I see what Boss is trying to do, by bringing a gritty modern political series into the realm of Shakespearean drama, but the show loses me by not having characters that I find gripping enough. I can start right away with the purposefully crafted, powerhouse performance from Kelsey Grammer. This role has everything needed to ensure various awards. He has large monologues to deliver, big showy movements to make, and then an effort to humanize him, thanks to his desire to see his daughter. Unfortunately, regardless of how likable or unlikable we are supposed to find this man who goes through various shady means to keep his power, there was not much pathos to make me care either way. Everything is done for the Kane character, except when it comes to making me understand why he has a desperate need his power, short of stating “power corrupts”. Grammer is certainly good, no doubt about that, but the show only gets so far in developing someone for him to play, but not really crafting his character.
This issue extends to the rest of the cast as well, which is a shame because no one is really acting poorly on this show necessarily, I just do not really care about anyone. The most hilarious example of this may be Kathleen Robertson’s character, Kitty the sex robot. There is really no other way to describe her. She is designed to be super smart in terms of helping out the mayor’s image, but also in desperate need of sexing from the idealistic, bust scandalous Zojac. She has no real character, she is just a caricature. The closest the show coms to having people to root for are in the form of Kane’s daughter Emma (whose performance is too wooden) and journalist Sam Miller (who is too irritating to want to like).
With all of this said, the show does a couple things well enough to make it watchable. It is well made. The pilot, directed by Gus Van Sant, established a look and visual style for the show that keeps a sharp cinematic feel intact for the remainder of the episodes. The production team involved does a good job of showing off Chicago and the dark and shady political atmosphere that comes with the subject matter. There are various moments that rely heavily on Kane’s illness/subconscious taking hold and manifesting itself, which leads to some stylish sequences as well. I also admired the show most when it dealt with the various dirty dealings involved in keeping up an image. Watching Kane and his team figure out a ways to spin scandals or do work to make opposition look bad is when the show is having the most fun and it helps.
Boss was a bit of a strange series to get into. I did not quite know what I was getting to, before starting up this eight episode first season, but after having watched it, I guess it ends up being about what I should have expected. It has all the ingredients of a mature-rated, serialized drama, where confident actors can reach into areas of the characters they are portraying without the constraints of being on a regular network station; but it also seems to want to take that privilege to incorporate hardcore sex scenes as well, ‘Starz style.’ Given that line of thinking, I would say that Boss ultimately succeeds, because it is made with a certain ere of confidence, even if it does not quite earn it. While it is a great looking show and goes the Breaking Bad route of making certain sequences, including a lot the mundane, look stylish, the characters leave a lot to be desired, regardless of how good the actors are. As it stands, maybe I can eventually check out Season 2 and find out if it has improved on where it started out, but for now, even with a grandiose performance from Kelsey Grammer, the show is not quite event television.
The video presentation on the Blu-ray for this first season of Boss is pretty boss indeed. Working with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for each episode, the show benefits from its slick style once again, as the show is well suited for HD viewing. The style of the show utilizes lots of natural light, which means the show can be quite dark, but it always looks great. Colors are fine, textures are solid, which is especially good given the heavy use of close-ups, and the details all register quite clear. For a television series that revolves around dirty dealings in politics, this is a great looking show on Blu-ray.
Well this was a surprise. Boss is equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, which easily elevates this very dialogue-driven show to a perfect score in regards to its audio quality. The track is just fantastic on every episode, which features plenty of dialogue, along with a great use of sound effects that amplify various aspects of the series, and a score that moves between playing to the themes of the show to feeling like a repeated tone that drones on effectively enough, based on Kane’s state of mind. Everything about this audio mix is very well handled and is a highlight of this Blu-ray set.
Another surprise. Next to no effort seems to have been put in when it came to adding special features onto this Blu-ray set. Two commentaries and a small conversation about the origin of this series. Nothing else. No deleted scenes, no making-ofs, not even a Kelsey Grammer blooper reel. It is a disappointment not to be able to know more about the creation of this show.
Listen – Audio Commentary with Creator Farhad Safinia and Cinematographer Kasper Tuxen. This commentary functions well enough to provide details regarding how the show came together, given that there are no other features to really delve into it. It helps that the commentary is entertaining enough to listen to.
Choose – Audio Commentary with Creator Farhad Safinia and Executive Producer Richard Levine. Another decent listen.
The Mayor and His Maker. Farhad Safinia and Kelsey Grammer have a discussion regarding the origins of the series and their collaboration. A decent extra.
There is a better show in here, but Boss maybe in the process of finding it still. Maybe Season 2’s Blu-ray will have me more accepting of the series, but for now, I was fine with the show, but not ecstatic over it. Kelsey Grammer may be doing a lot to really sink his teeth into an imposing role, but like the rest of the cast, the characters left me wanting more. Thankfully, the show is crafted quite well technically, which is great when thinking about the fantastic audio/video presentation that is present on this Blu-ray set. Now if only there were sufficient extras to better supplement this package. Regardless, Boss is a show excels in certain ways, but can do better as well.