Thinking Man Reviews: Boss – Pilot

By Anthony Medina

**Be aware this review contains spoiler** 

Season 1 Episode 1

“Listen”

“You think this is easy?” – Mayor Tom Kane

The Specs

Originally Aired: October 21st 2011

Creator: Farhad Safinia

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Farhad Safinia

Channel: Starz

You may know him as Frasier or even Side Show Bob. But funny man Kelsey Grammar has put aside his wine glass and big floppy shoes to give us Tom Kane, the ruthless and powerful Mayor of Chicago. So if your looking for the usual good hearted high brow comedy we’ve come to expect from Mr. Grammar, look else where, because the Boss ain’t #$&*ing around.

The Rundown:

Personal

We open on Tom Kane, as he sits patiently listening to his doctor describe the rare neurological disorder that will take his mind and eventually his life. After hearing this disturbing news he calls his estranged daughter but it unable to reach her. As we delve further into his personal life we find that his marriage to Meredith Kane (Connie Nelson) is a sham, maintained only for appearances. Tom Kane has no one.

Politics

For reasons as yet unknown, Tom has turned on his political ally, Governor McCall Cullen, in favor of State Treasurer Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner). On the surface Zajac appears to be a family values, church going man who works in the interest of the people. However, we quickly learn that there are skeletons in his closet as he begins an affair with Kitty O’Neill (Kathleen Robertson), Tom’s political adviser.

City Business

When Native Art work is found in a construction site, a man named Moco takes it upon himself to report it to the local news. Unfortunately for him, this project has been in the works for 22 years and Mayor Tom Kane has been at the forefront for the expansion of the O’Hare International Airport. And now his plans are threatened by this act of show and tell. Tom calls a meeting with the Hispanic Council Member overseeing the project and delivers a devastating and terrifying speech chastising the man for this failure. The Councilor gets the message and vows to make amends. He does so by delivering the ears (yup actual human ears) of the man who spoke to the reporters. The Mayor attempts to deal with this issue by adding an amendment to a garbage bill that would give him sole authority over the archaeological artifacts. But he meets opposition and is unable to pass the bill.

Thoughts:

For those of you most familiar with Kelsey Grammar as Frasier, the lovable quirky therapist, you will be quickly relived of that sentiment as Tom Kane is a ruthless, corrupt and monstrous man whose sole aim is maintaining and augmenting his power. There is nothing likable about Tom Kane. Even his illness garners little sympathy as we see him abuse his position in ever self aggrandizing maneuvers. And yet we are left with the unassailable impression that Tom Kane is definitely an effective leader. And maybe even a good Mayor.

Farhad Safinia the creator of Boss and the writer of this episode strives to present a grittier, more realistic approach to politics by showing us the darker side of democracy. There are no good guys or even bad guys, just human beings each working to their own advantage. In the end this episode is highly entertaining and beckons the viewer to continue watching. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and go watch Boss, you won’t regret it.

Thinking Man Rating: 9/10

Every Series Has a Writing/Producing Learning Curve: BOSS, For example

Farhad Safinia, creator/executive producer of BOSS, and some guy named Kelsey Grammer talk about what they’re learning. And as writers we find it…impressive:

‘Boss’ Season 2: Kelsey Grammer, Farhad Safinia on Exploring ‘Original Sin – by Lesley Goldberg

THR sat down with the star and executive producer to discuss how Kane’s illness will impact the pace of the story, how long they envision the series running and the shocking story line that kicks off in Friday’s premiere.

The Hollywood Reporter: How does Season 2 compare to the first run? What did you learn?
Farhad Safinia: 
The storytelling is taking on a new shape. Season 1 was focused in terms of its structure; I told it like a movie. The eight hours had a beginning, middle and end and you had to be patient to wait for the plots that we put in the first few episodes to pay off. It’s a risky endeavor for a TV show. We are not like The Sopranos or The Wire or Mad Men in a way in which we’re looking at a window into a particular life that is open for the moment and then is going to get shut. In our case, we have an arc of change in our storytelling because we promised the audience that we’re watching the final few years of this man’s life. So from season to season we either have to keep to that promise or the audience is going to get upset with us. I couldn’t go back in Season 2 and repeat the same tone and vibe of the first season in a way in which shows like ER can without people getting upset.

Kelsey Grammer: It’s specific to what has gone on in [Kane’s] mind. I think you’ll find that in the latter half of the season there’s another shift. A lot of what felt like the old show you started to see again in the last two or three [episodes] of last season.

Safinia: The plot structure and plotting that we’re following is very much a mirror of Kane’s state of mind in a way. I think that worked for us very well. Even in Season 1 there was some shift. I remember during the course of the season people were asking us, “My God, Kane doesn’t seem to have even suffered from any illness for two or three episodes; is [his disease] going away, is it coming back?” I think that’s because that is the nature of the disease: where you can have a long run with nothing and then suddenly it comes back and looks like it’s going to take you out there and then. When we start Season 2, we’re in a place where [Kane] had effectively decimated his inner circle. He is seemingly in control again because of the radical moves that he pulled in terms of what he did with Ezra Stone [Martin Donovan], what he did with his daughter [Hannah Ware], what he did with Kitty [Kathleen Robertson], and so on. But his mind is nowhere good. He is desperate in a way. That desperation we are marrying with a structure of storytelling that’s more hectic. That will change midseason again for a plot point that we can’t quite tell you why. But hopefully the pace will shift again, as the pace of his disease shifts and changes.

The disease is moving a lot quicker than anticipated, was the decision to speed things up based at all on the underperforming ratings?
Safinia: Not at all. The network and the studio have been behind what we want to do and have never once said anything about any of those things. We don’t have shifts in storytelling tone to reflect the fact that our story is changing fundamentally because our central character is changing. Tony Soprano ends The Sopranos effectively unchanged in my view. That’s why they can just cut to black. In our case, we’re not like that. We are watching a five-year drop. So, we have to have those changes reflected in our how we’re telling our story. There is a bigger fragmented nature in Season 2. The story lines seem to spin out of a gravitational control. Things that seem to be irrelevant at first suddenly become relevant in a horrific way. That aspect is exactly what’s going on in Kane’s mind, too. We didn’t have the right numbers but we had critical acclaim for Season 1. They think the formula works, let’s just try to build an audience. We opened it up, telling you that Kane’s dying and that you can’t go into Season 2 and repeat what you did because people need to see something new.

Read it all

This article also mentions that Dee Johnson is now the official showrunner for BOSS. Dee’s background makes her a very interesting choice, and we hope to be able to explore the result.

 

Post DEADWOOD Modernism in Contemporary TV

Hey, that sounds pretty intellectual, huh? Just our way of honor this pretty damn intellectual article. We think we’d agree with it too…if we were sure of what it says:

It’s Deadwood‘s World. BossCopper, and Hell on Wheels Are Just Living In It – by Matt Zoller Seitz

Much of modern TV is said to take place in a post-Sopranos universe, but this summer David Milch’s gold-rush Western Deadwood seems just as influential. The show’s cancellation in 2006 left a hole in fans’ hearts, and a glance at some of the most prominent current dramas suggests that TV’s showrunners miss it, too… The show was dark and violent, but with a core of tenderness and optimism. It was singular and stirring. No wonder we keep prospecting in cable’s shallows, panning for Milchian gold.

Amid the silt and pyrite, you’ll find FX’s Justified and Sons of Anarchy, 21st-century crime sagas that lean on Western tropes and employ ex-Deadwoodactors. HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which returns for a third season in September, echoes Milch’s Western, too; its lavishly re-created twenties-boardwalk set feels like a cleaned-up version of Deadwood’s title encampment. Starz just unveiled a second season of Boss, a big-city potboiler that makes modern Chicago seem as lawless as a nineteenth-century urban cesspool… AMC just kicked off the sophomore season of Hell on Wheels, a show about the building of the transcontinental railroad that plays like Deadwood by way of a pot-scented counterculture Western…. Even BBC America is getting into the act with its first original series, Copper, a Civil War–era drama set in New York’s Five Points neighborhood…[T]he show boasts muddy streets, bloody murders, and Peeping Tom camerawork that evokes Deadwood’s documentary jitters. And that’s fine. “I wouldn’t trust a man that wouldn’t try to steal a little,” quoth Swearengen. Alas, any show that steals from Deadwood is bound to look second-rate.

Hell on Wheels was damned by Deadwood comparisons the instant it premiered, which wasn’t entirely fair. Westerns have had a disillusioned feel since 1969’sThe Wild Bunch, and they often spotlight variations on familiar types, such as the widowed and fearful society woman who evolves into a gender-trailblazing power broker (Molly Parker’s Alma Garret in Deadwood, Dominique McElligott’s Lily Bell on Wheels) and the gunslinging brooder with an explosive temper (Timothy Olyphant’s Mexican War veteran turned sheriff on Deadwood,Anson Mount’s vengeance-obsessed ex-Confederate on Wheels). As co-creator Joe Gayton said in an interview last year, “We’re inevitably going to be compared to Deadwood, because that was the last Western on television.”

Unfortunately, he and his brother and creative partner Tony Gayton didn’t do themselves any favors. The show feels too much like Deadwood on rails.

Read it all

There’s more, all equally well-written and just as hard for those of us who grew up watching instead of reading whenever possible to decipher. The idea here, though, seems to be that following in the footsteps of something that was really, really, really good is bad because even if you make your version better nobody will believe that but you.

We here at TVWriter™ certainly believe that innovation should always rule. Or, to put it another, more extreme way – because we’re an extreme generation, dig? – the worst original is better than the best imitation because of the very fact that it’s new. That it takes a step forward in the development of not only television but any and every art–

Except if you’re a TV executive deciding what to put on the air. In which case you’re looking to justify your decision to shareholders, God, whoever, by being able to say, “Well, when they did it on DEADWOOD it worked very well. HBO got mindshare, critical praise, and more subscriptions, so that’s why we’re doing it again.”

Which brings up the basic problem in all major media these days. If you create the best show ever – totally new, totally exciting, totally wow – and nobody sees it because it doesn’t get picked up, did you really create anything at all?

Apparently, the people behind BOSS, COPPER, and HELL ON WHEELS say no. And they just might be right.

BOSS Showrunner Says He’s Worried About the Ratings

Maybe if he had one – just one – likeable character on the series and one – just one – moment of joy he wouldn’t have to worry because the ratings would take care of themselves.

Boss Creator “Heartbroken” Over Low Ratings: “I Hope We Get to Tell the Entire Story” – by Kate Stanhope

It’s no secret that Boss, despite its famous leading man and Golden Globe win, has been struggling in the ratings.

“I am completely aware of what the numbers are and I’m heartbroken,” creator and executive producer Farhad Safinia told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s fall preview sessions Thursday. “There are so many great things about the show that I feel it deserves a larger audience.

Boss was renewed for a second season even before the show debuted. The series premiered to 1.05 million viewers last October on Starz.

Safinia also believes it was the show’s low ratings that caused [series star Kelsey] Grammer’s Emmy snub. After winning a Golden Globe award in January for his performance, many awards show pundits predicted he would also snag an Emmy nomination. “Kelsey not getting nominated is a travesty. I just don’t understand it,” Safinia said. “The only explanation I can come up with is perhaps that people didn’t get to see it.”

Read it all

Aw, Farhad, don’t sweat it. Stick to your icky vision of politics and life. Be true to yourself, dood. If you live in a world without happiness, why betray it just to make your audience feel, you know, good?