Boss (2011–2012)
Points for style, but no soul
18 November 2012
You have to hand it to Boss's creators for pioneering a unique style of cinematography and sound. Nearly all of Boss's scenes are shot as close-ups of whoever's speaking, regardless of what else is going on. For those of us who like surround sound, this is the first TV series I've ever heard that really takes advantage of it. It makes you feel right in the middle of the scene, as if standing right in front of that close-up. Kelsey Grammar also ditches his Frazier persona and we almost forget where we know him from. Like Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle, Grammar's going to get a box full of awards statues for his new dramatic work.

Unfortunately, the devil's in the character of the characters. Nearly everyone involved is cold, calculating, and incapable of inspiring our empathy. The Boss himself rules through intimidation and secret violence. His wife, the daughter of the old mayor, is a political prop with no feelings for her husband at all, only a desire to enjoy the glamorous civic business life that active first ladies receive. His estranged daughter (played by a former British model who slips in and out of accent like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard) is a minister recovering (on and off) from drug addiction. She has turned her icy back on the parents who threw the first icy punch when they shut their dope fiend daughter out. Beyond that are the cynical operatives, mannequin-shaped strategists who double as whores, and, yes, even black- gloved assassins who do the boss's dirty work. Like most premium cable dramatic series, smatterings of full body makeup soft porn appear once or twice an episode as a substitute for emotional intimacy, and even it is icy cold.

It's hard to imagine politics in any American city, even Chicago, being quite so without warmth, soul, or redemption. In Russia, Mexico, or China, sure, but not in a place where politicians who hire assassins get investigative task forces assigned to them by the feds. The lack of sympathetic characters at first made me wonder who to root for, but somewhere around episode 5 I just decided to hell with all of them. They're too unlikable to keep watching. I'm tempted to, based on some of the other reviews I've seen about season 2, but the lack of morality is, well, demoralizing.

PostScript: A lot of reviewers have compared Boss to The Wire, which is hands down my favorite show of all time. IMHO, a deep, dark, and funny masterpiece. My take? The Wire had a sense of humor. It also had a way of making even its most bloodthirsty and treacherous villains human and vulnerable so that even if and when they die, we regret their passing. The Wire has a much richer palette of characters. It introduced us to entire city full of cops, junkies, drug dealers, stick up crews, teachers, reporters, kids, politicians, and longshoremen, many of whom never actually share a scene or know of the others' existence. Best of all, none of them were comic book stereotypes, and all of them were using their brains to get up to speed or, more often, to work the system and get over. The Boss does make its way around, but the focus is really all about the Boss and his intimates. While no one in Boss is a stereotype, either, we just never seem to get to know anyone very well. So that's a big part of why it's hard to really feel for any of them. None of them has a sense of humor, only a sense of anger.
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