If you know anything about the politics of the great ‘Windy City’ of Chicago, then you know at the very least how corrupt a local administration can be. Now, don’t blame the current politicians necessarily: any review of history would show you that they’re just as much pawns to the system created years before, though none are quick to institute anything resembling lasting reform. Take Mayor Tom Kane (played with terrific conviction by Kelsey Grammer) as an example: he’s as effective as he is ruthless. In fact, if he didn’t have so many secrets to keep him busy, one wonders whether he’d be half as productive in the job as he is!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
At the end of Season 1, Kane was forced to make a few fateful decisions – one involving the life and liberty of his closest confidante – and, as Season 2 opens, we see that he’s still struggling to maintain a semblance of control over his office as well as his own sanity. The sanity bit is largely driven by the fact that he’s suffering from a rare brain disease that’s slowly robbing him of all his faculties (as well as his allies). However, Kane employs the same ruthlessness that’s made him a winner in Chicago’s back alleys in order to bring his condition under control (is a cure truly possible?), only to risk losing it all when he’s force to bow to adversaries who attack when he’s weakest.
Try as it might, BOSS was quite possibly never ‘meant to be’ a long-running show in its current format. By that I mean that the central conceit of exploring a corrupt administration really kept the audience watching for what scandal was going to rock City Hall next; and, given the fact that so much of Kane’s personality was limited to coming apart at the seams, any reviewer – much less a regular viewer – could easily make out some of the stitching of the seams. In one aspect, certain liabilities became predictable, and, as the second (swan) season wore on, methinks its days were as numbered as were Tom Kane’s.
To its credit, BOSS brought on a few new characters to round out an already strong cast. Jonathon Groff joined the show as Ian Todd, a new political upstart who wanted in on Kane’s reign, but he was relatively quickly relegated to ‘nefarious-in-waiting’ status with a secret that was better served in daytime soaps. Sanaa Lathan came aboard as Mona Fredricks, Kane’s new chief of staff and spiritual sexual conquest (no, they never copulated); thankfully, the writers gave her some depth but no enough smarts to see the writing on the wall as she succumbed to one foul play after the next. Returning series one regulars – Jeff Hephner as Ben Zajac; Troy Garity as reporter Sam Miller; and the lovely Kathleen Robertson as Kane’s former staffer Kitty O’Neill – were given some quality face time and some surprising new developments; but, all-in-all, they lacked the courage and conviction of their performances from the first go-round, leaving much of the drama to be desired.
BOSS’s failure to capture an audience, I’d argue, might be exactly in its initial design. After all, how many times can episodic television recreate the sham of bad politics and expect it to maintain its freshness? This isn’t to say that the show was bogged down in a repetitive series of one-notes because that was far from the case. Like Kane’s illness, there were only so many ways for the narrative to truly try something new before the inevitable breakdown came – be it emotional or physical or (broader) political. In this format, heads were only gonna roll for so long; had the showrunners and writers had the foresight to look ahead at a more involved second season, perhaps they could’ve gone off on stronger tangents with more department heads, allowing Kane and his court to play second-fiddle to a growing assortment of even seedier characters. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be …
BOSS: SEASON TWO is produced by Category 5 Entertainment, Grammnet Productions, Lionsgate Television, and Boss Kane Productions. DVD distribution is being handled by Lionsgate. As for the technical specifications, the show looks and sounds marvelous as there’s ongoing trickery (with light and sound) involving Kane’s questionable mental condition. The set – like its central mayor – is not to be trifled with, as it comes with a featurette titled “The King and his Court” as well as commentaries on the episodes. It’s an impressive package for a show that, arguably, deserved a bit more.
STRONGLY RECOMMENDED. Gone may be much of the high-stakes thuggery that so populated BOSS’s first season, but Grammer’s performance remains stellar as the Chicago politician who’s equally haunted by his ‘management style’ and the mentally-debilitating disease that’s slowly turning him into what he fears most: weak. Sadly, his surrounding cast isn’t given as much to do this time out, making them seem less like participants in this slow-moving tale than they are victims of a system they’ve helped foster whether they intended it or not. It’s still a bit of a powder keg – though one might argue this season’s fuse was a bit protracted – which may’ve contributed to the STARZ’s Network pulling the plug on the current format.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with a DVD copy of BOSS: SEASON TWO by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.