The Cost to be the “Boss”: Kelsey Grammer’s Stellar Portrayal of Monster and Man

The Starz series “Boss” unfolds with immediate access into Chicago’s Mayor Thomas Kane’s Achilles’ heel.  In an arranged secret meeting, he finds out his fateful diagnosis. The clock starts ticking.  There isn’t much time. Yet it is this very alchemy of electoral ambition and corporeal deterioration that make for compelling drama.  Kane is a well-crafted villain who is simultaneously vicious and vulnerable, sinister and sympathetic.

It is knowing upfront the mayor’s deterioration that spawns an audience’s intrigue, for the mayor does not go gently into that good night.  Kane is an alluring character study.  Ruthless and lacerative, he weathers all tides as his kingdom rises and falls, falls and rises.  His prowess to manipulate is fascinating, wielding calculated and merciless vengeance over all who disobey him, inclusive of kindred and his own political inner circle. Even innocent people who unfortunately help his health are thrown under the bus.

The beauty of “Boss” is that as audience, we are made privy to not only the king’s ambitions but also his subjects’. We are given access to their subjection and subversion.  Immediately we are thrust into a world of characters with rivaling complexity, coordinating and calculating their own moves within the chaotic milieu of a gubernatorial primary.  No one-dimensional characters here.  From office staff to family to foes, each has motives and agendas. Camouflaged and chameleonic does not begin to describe their orchestrated facades. It’s as if living in a Shakespearean tragedy, like that of King Lear, where family’s and statesmen’s loyalties are in constant flux and purchase. Morality and allegiance are wantonly disregarded.

The characters are compelling because while they are somewhat puppets of Kane, each resounds with their own uniquely tailored dilemmas and demons. An estranged drug-addicted daughter, now venerable priest of a local Catholic church and director of medical programs at its local poorly funded clinic, works to reconcile her past by promoting messianic and charitable good, even if done through unconventional and illegal means. An ambitious state treasurer, handpicked and endorsed by Kane to be the next governor, gets ahead of his post, and consequently, his unbridled lust, political naiveté, and easily purchased loyalty place him in dire and compromising positions. It all makes for intriguing viewing.

Masterful and crafty as a weathered chess player, Kane anticipates the moves of others before the seed germ has begun to sprout.  He calculates their moves from jump, before they even touch the first pawn.  He brings people in check should they garner the audacity to position their own ambitions before his.  He has played their games before, so much so that their moves pulse and proliferate in the marrow of his bones. He engages the defense of some political foes and defenestration of others, all to the purpose of his glory and gain.  He antiseptically disinfects against all others’ self-determination and self-service.

Yet while Kane in many respects is the devil incarnate, he is a character not incapacitated from conducting self-study.  As his disease periodically peeks through in public speeches and private conferences, he takes steps to monitor its unfurling. He records its manifestations to capture and research what leaks out and what remains. Through these intermittent windows into his soul, we as witnesses sympathize with his helplessness and pity his body’s betrayal.

Accentuating “Boss” is its skillful cinematography, particularly the use of soliloquy to afford the audience intimate access into Kane’s mental machinery.  Kane’s ramblings are like Shakespearean soliloquies that allow us to hear his inner meditations, as like the ravenous ruminations of Macbeth whose leprous ambition unravels his mind to see phantom daggers and the ghost of murdered ally Banquo.

Thomas Kane, the infamous mayor of Chicago, is unscrupulous. There is no person he will spare, no blood he will not shed (figuratively and literally), no ambition he will not dare, to insure his throne.

Which is why I can’t wait for Season 2 this Friday.

Game on.



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