Judge Jim Thomas is his own boss. Actually, his dog is probably the only one in the house who believes that.
Boss, a political potboiler centered on Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer, Frasier), a Chicago mayor struggling with a degenerative disease, debuted on Starz two years ago to great fanfare; early buzz was so strong that Starz ordered a second season before Season One even debuted. Despite its strengths, the show never quite found an audience, and was canceled after just two seasons. Lionsgate now brings us Boss: Season Two.
As his Lewy Body Dementia progresses, Kane struggles to maintain control of himself and his city. A development project that would displace the inhabitants of a crime-riddled housing project threatens to incite riots, both on the street and in the board room. Allies are shifting sides, and since one of Kane's top aides was recently murdered and the other fired, Kane is also having to get by with two new aides—Ian (Jonathan Groff, Glee), a young, ambitious man who seems to have a few secrets of his own, and Mona Fredricks (Sanaa Latham, Contagion), who took the job in the hope of protecting the residents of the aforementioned housing project.
The Illinois gubernatorial race is beginning to heat up, with young upstart Alex Zajac (Jeff Hephner, The O.C.) up against veteran candidate Catherine Walsh (Amy Morton, Up in the Air). Zajac was handpicked by Kane, but as Kane's political power appears to be waning, Zajac is straining to become his own man. Unfortunately for him, Walsh's new campaign manager is Kitty O'Neill (Kathleen Robertson, Hollywoodland), one of Kane's former top aides, someone who knows just how to wield a political dagger—and Zajac's former lover. Just as this overloaded pot begins to boil over, an assassin's bullet intended for Kane hits his wife (Connie Neilsen, Gladiator). When all else fails, Kane can always rely on his old aide Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan, Insomnia), who chimes in from time to time with his counsel. Did I mention that Kane had Stone killed at the end of Season One?
Clearly, that's a lot going on for a twenty-four-episode season, let alone ten episodes—and I left out several additional plotlines. That pretty much encapsulates the problem with this set—there's a too much crammed in here, and at times it reaches soap opera levels of "Oh, give me a break" implausibility. The entire season has a certain rushed quality, as though they were desperately trying to get as much into the storylines as possible—the end result is that too many of the stories get a chance to breathe. Certain ideas—most notably Ezra's appearances to his erstwhile boss—are pretty much run into the ground. The weak links in the acting department are Hannah Ware as Kane's daughter, and Jonathan Groff. Hannah's storyline is only marginally related to the main plotlines, and Ware doesn't have enough screen presence to keep her own story compelling in its own right. Groff's character, on the other hand, appears from the beginning to be a stereotypical overeager type with his own secret, and the writing does nothing to dispel that. In several early episodes, the directors go out of their way to draw out attention to the fact that here is a guy with his own hidden agenda.
That said, provided that you can keep everyone straight, it's still fun to watch, primarily because of the cast. Grammer has picked up a lot of accolades for his performance, and deservedly so, but the trick behind the show's success is that there are several supporting players who can go toe to toe with Grammer—the bulk of the characters are type-A personalities, after all. At the top of the list is Connie Nielsen, but there are a host of others, include Daniel J. Travanti (Hill Street Blues) as one of Kane's allies who suddenly becomes an enemy.
Technically, the disc is quite good. Shot on digital video, the show has a strong visual style, established by director Gus van Sant in the pilot episode, that emphasizes natural lighting, giving you nice, gloomy shadows to swallow up the evil that men do. The surround sound is strong as well, though most of the time it doesn't get to do much—it is impressive in several crowd scenes. There's a handful of extras. "The King and His Court" is a brief overview of Kane and his advisors—interesting, but somewhat fluffy. There are a couple of commentary tracks as well, with writers and executive producers. They're interesting, particularly in that they often go into storylines that they decided not to pursue, or that they were setting up for Season Three. Rather annoying, though, is that the menu says "Commentary with writer and executive producer," without actually naming them. As I say, annoying, particularly given that there are five executive producers on the show.
At times too over the top and perhaps even distasteful, Boss remains an intriguing show, even if it isn't as compelling as Season One. While the show has been canceled, there is talk of doing a movie in order to bring Kane's story to a close. I hope they do it, because it would be fun to see these characters one last time and see if any of these people actually get their just rewards.
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