King of Chicago

The mayor of Chicago is mad as a hatter, but the trains run on time. Having been mayor for a couple of decades, Tom Kane is the ultimate power player; he has a lot to say about which councillors get elected and he wields that power like a mace to get them on board with his agenda.

Not only that, but Kane (Kelsey Grammar) is a kingmaker in the state election, too; he’s currently knee-deep in intrigue, covertly bent on upending the incumbent governor’s nomination. Kane does six impossible things before breakfast – he also has a major development deal in the works. That’s just the first episode of Boss.

Boss aired for two seasons on the Starz network between 2011 and 2012, and is now available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library.

The series was created by Farhad Safinia, with the first episode directed by Gus Van Sant, setting the ambitious course of the series. Boss was compared in reviews to the British series of House of Cards (the American remake had yet to appear), but the creators name Shakespeare as an inspiration, especially King Lear. It also drew comparisons with real-life Chicago politics.

A diagnosis of a degenerative neurological disease (dementia with Lewy bodies) is the one disrupting element in Kane’s smooth operation. He chooses to medicate to suppress telltale physical symptoms, but that leaves his deteriorating mind vulnerable to hallucinations. Apparently a slightly deranged Kane doesn’t raise any more red flags at City Hall than usual – or at home – but impending mortality is focusing his mind on his legacy. That can’t be good.

The character of Tom Kane provided Grammar with a chance to showcase his dramatic side and distance himself from the loveable Frasier Crane. Tom Kane seems to be an irredeemable character, with a long and growing list of outrageous transgressions against those near and dear to him. That includes his daughter Emma (Hannah Ware), a recovering addict and ordained minister who operates a street clinic on the side and gives some really ineffectual sermons. Also, her commitment to recovery is a little shaky.

The cast also includes Connie Nielsen as the mayor’s wife, and Francis Guinan as Mac Cullen, the shrewd governor who’s not quite a match for Kane. Kathleen Robertson and Martin Donovan are Kane’s assistants in the first season, and Jeff Hephner is Ben Zajak, a gubernatorial candidate who goes on his own journey of exile and return.

A common criticism about Boss and the House of Cards series (which is also available at the Whitehorse Public Library) is that the bad guys always win. In Boss, that’s not quite true, but it manages to get the viewer rooting for Kane by giving a glimpse of the chaos that ensues when anyone else takes the helm of Chicago.

Some scenes that seem over the top also seem more conceivable this year, such as the National Guard being sent into Chicago.

Boss was cancelled unexpectedly, but although some storylines aren’t resolved, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger.

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