Starz is not a channel people would rank up there on the level of HBO and AMC for its programming output. Recently, with popular shows like Spartacus (haven't seen it, so I can't comment on the quality of the show) or the misfire that was Camelot; there have attempts at making grittier shows along with the likes Magic City and the upcoming Noir. But no have been successes on the level of the powerful brands of HBO and lately, AMC, whose shows Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Mad Men have seen the channel rise as a powerhouse of television. Boss was seen as being Starz answer to these shows and as a challenger. However, as seems common in the States, shows live and die based on viewing figures, with little regard for acclaim or critical praise. Even though Boss has made it to a second season, it's viewing figures have been abysmal and I'd be surprised if there'll be a third season. Which is a shame, because Boss is a pretty darn good show.
With this being billed as Kelsey Grammer's first serious lead-role away from his more comedic centred efforts for which he became famous for, it is a great and unsuspecting success. As Mayor Tom Kane, there is a new side to the man once fondly remembered as Frasier Crane. Tom Kane is a monster. A ruthless man with time against him. Diagnosed in the opening scene of the first episode as having Lewy bodies with dementia, we first see him at his strongest. This is the compelling point of this show. There will be no recovery for Kane. He is going downhill from the very first episode and unlike most shows when these problems tend to be resolved easily and thrown aside (something that always took away from Breaking Bad for me). Kane's battle to hide his illness from both his family and the public is a compelling look at a man losing control, who was perhaps not a likeable man before his diagnosis, but has become even more so as the series has progressed. Now I am not sure of the portrayal of Lewy bodies in the show, if it is a genuine portrayal of the illness or sensationalised for entertainment purposes. If it is a genuine portray; then it's a harrowing affliction as Kane (especially in the later episodes of season 1 and rises in season 2 and provides some of the seasons best scenes) loses his grip on reality, his hallucinations become more vivid and his mind veers away from stability. While not wanting to go into plot specifics and spoilers, Kane's conversations with right-hand man Ezra Stone (the terrific Martin Donovan) provide the series highlights. Stone's cool precision mixed with Kane's fury makes for thrilling television and even more so in the second series as the show evolves from political drama into a full blown psychological thriller.
While not being the greatest show ever, it is great to see Grammer tackle more challenging projects. From start to finish of every episode, he is the focal point, confidently carrying each episode. It's Boss's greatest strength but also it's greatest weakness. This over-reliance on Grammer. While Donovan's Stone is the pick of the supporting characters, shows like the aforementioned Breaking Bad or classic shows of the highest calibre like The Sopranos and The Wire make use of a strong supporting ensemble, where often the supporting characters are the highlight; hello Mike Ehrmantraut and Christopher Moltisanti! Boss in this regard suffers. It is very much a one man show, for all the supporting characters plotting and scheming, they are not in the least memorable in the grand scale of modern television viewing. Which is a shame, because Grammer's Tom Kane is. Despite these flaws, the show is definitely worth having a look at, purely for Grammer's powerhouse performance.