DRAMA PREMIERE "Boss"
WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 10 p.m. on Starz
REASON TO WATCH Kelsey Grammer as Chicago mayor.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The great and omnipotent Chicago "mayor for life" Tom Kane (Grammer) sits on a bare seat in an abandoned slaughterhouse to hear -- as it were -- his death sentence. Because appearances and power are so tightly conjoined in his insular world, he has selected this remote location instead of his neurologist's office so that no one will see them.
His doctor tells him the worst -- that he has maybe five years to live with his condition, a degenerative brain disease. In the meantime, his mental edifice will collapse one brick at a time until nothing is left standing. Fine time for bad news: Kane's administration is in the midst of a trash-hauling ordinance brawl with the city council that's linked to a vast airport expansion initiative he is spearheading.
Kane also is preparing to topple incumbent Gov. McCall Cullen (Francis Guinan) with his own candidate, state Treasurer Alex Zajac (Jeff Hephner). Then, there is the power behind the power, Meredith Kane (Connie Nielsen), whose arctic temperament is in stark contrast to her husband's (and yes, they are estranged).
MY SAY "Stormy, husky, brawling, city of the big shoulders: They tell me you are wicked and I believe them," and after watching "Boss" (with all due respect to Carl Sandburg), so do I. The Gus Vant Sant-directed pilot of what is easily the most important project in Starz history pulses with the sort of corruption that absolute power sires. As seen here, Chicago is a coven of squabbling tribes that would mutually self destruct were it not for lord-ruler of them all, Tom Kane.
As an oligarch, Grammer's Kane is an unnerving mix of high-blown rhetoric -- much is blarney -- and full-fisted street thuggery.
In tight close-ups, those famous baby blues have a rheumy, world-weary look to them, while his jowls sag under the weight of his mendacity. Kane bellows like King Lear or whispers like the devil himself.
BOTTOM LINE In other words, you will not recognize Dr. Frasier Crane in this portrayal. But is Grammer good here? Yes, very.