[Review] - Boss, Season 2

Courtesy of Lionsgate Televison
Boss is the next best example of the Breaking Bad format: a crop of new shows that will feature villain protagonists suffering from a fatal disease. As their body degrades, so too will their relationships, their personality, and their worlds. Having concluded it's second season, Boss (one of the few original dramas of the increasingly note worth Starz network) remains an entertaining, highly enjoyable series that never wavers when it comes to it's depictions of it's characters. There is no ambiguity to any of these characters: they are bad people. Every one of them. Even the good ones. And considering the shows rating (low for cable television, but decent for non-Spartacus Starz), maybe that puts people off. Maybe they are looking for complexity. Or maybe they are looking for someone to sympathise with. I for one am content to watch the manipulations and bad stabbing that makes Boss so much fun.
Hit the jump for the review, which suffers from a rare brain disorder that causes it to see spoilers.

"I'm the goddamn Mayor of this motherfucking city, and I want this pothole fixed!"
Thus screams Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer) at the skies towards the middle of the second season, thus summarising the series as a whole rather nicely. Tom Kane is a man who gets what he wants, no matter what. And he makes certain that everyone else is acutely aware of this fact.

Picking up pretty near where season one left off, with the murder of Kane aid Ezra Stone (Martin Donovon) remains unsolved. The O'Hare storyline from season one all but disappears immediately, in favour of a more urban storyline involving the redevelopment of a poverty and crime ridden project in the city centre. Kitty (Kathleen Robinson) struggles to find purpose following her firing and pregnancy. Zajac (Jeff Haphner)'s campaign for Governor begins in earnest. And Kane continues to deteriorate, plagued by hallucinations of Stone. The Lewy bodies were an obstacle in season one, but in season two they become a full fledged threat. For the first half of the season, Kane's actions are largely controlled by his disease.

The writers do a fair enough job avoiding padding out the story lines; the benefit of using politics as the background, you can excuse a little decompression as being a realistic depiction of how the political process works. Some things never go away, while others are abandoned. What the writers are most successful at is mirroring the state of the city with Kane's own degradation. When Kane is at his worst, the city suffers. When Kane is at his best, the city stands strong, if only on the surface. Beneath it all, Kane remains sick, and the city is corrupt. But it drives home of often mentioned philosophy that "Kane is Chicago". This is brought to a head in the mid season, when the city stands on the verge of riots, while Kane's sanity sees it's steepest drop. And in both cases, it's cosmetic assistance from outside that gives both some extra time (the Canadian medical clinic for Kane, the national guard for Chicago).

Where the season falls apart is finding something for the characters to do. The first season, aided by a shorter run, was tight, every character (and their motivations) having a clear purpose. This season, as we continue to follow characters that at first have little relevance, while the audience struggles to find reason behind any of the stories that don't directly involve Kane. The women get it worst, it's sad to say, with Kitty taking nearly half the ten episode run to actually do anything other then dither. Meridith (the capable, but underused, Connie Nealson) is alternatively a bed ridden victim, or the power behind the throne with little consistancy. Emma (Hannah Ware) gets it worst of all of them, spending the entire season without an actual story to conduct. Clearly the writers didn't know where to take the character, as they craft directionless conflicts for her to be involved in, only to abandon them after a few episodes and try something else. Her struggles with addition; a rather forced love triangle between Darius (equally bereft of a stable story) and new Kane aid Ian; and a conspiracy sub-plot involving the former Mayor all go nowhere, or at least nowhere interesting.

The season lumbered out of the gate, to be honest, bogged down by introducing new story lines and a feast of new characters, including Kane's new aids, each with their own secrets and motivations. Zajac is given an opponent in the Governor's race, while his own misdeeds continue to plague his progress. All the while, it struggles to support the characters it insists on following, and would probably have been better off jettisoning in favour of the new crop. It might have served the symbolism of the show better, to have Kane and Meridith be the only constants from year to year.

Things took off after the attempted assassination in the second episode, which also marked the start of Kane's decent into madness, culminating in the quote above in episode five, when reality has all but escaped Kane's vision. It was a bold move so early in the series (if it manages to get a third year), and doesn't feel undercut by the rather sudden and effective treatment Kane receives, setting everything right. As the season closed though, it was clear that the darkness was closing in around Tom once again, setting the stage for a third season. Rather then ignoring the madness, as in season one, or being dominated by it in season two, perhaps Kane finally has a measure of control, or at least acceptance over what he is becoming, if the season's final scene is any indication.

One can't help but wonder though, as you watch the show, how many of these people's problems would be solved if they simply kept their pants on. Starz is obviously in the infancy of original programming, and is trying to carve out a niche for itself. And seems to have settled on gratuitous sex as its niche. Nearly every single character on the show appaeras to be a sexual deviant of some kind. In fact, the only characters shown to have health sexual relationships are the ones who are resoundingly defeated. Everyone else spent as much time plotting the down fall of their rivals as they do engaging in sexual manipulations, running the gamut between religious-undertoned sexual dominance, incest, adultery, sexual obsession, and bisexual prostitution.

The high point remains, despite certain characters not having much to do, the acting. The performances are top notch, but Grammer especially, in his Golden Globe winning role as Kane. Watching his uncontrollable anger fester to the top, or the bubbling glee he exudes after totally destroying someone, without resorting to scene chewing, put him in the top level of performers on TV right now. While no one else on the show matches his level, they certain strive for it. A pleasant surprise this season was Jonathan Groff as Ian Todd, Kane's new aid. His desire for power is greasy, almost visible. He certainly has the same level of ambition as Kane, but is less subtle and shows less finesse when going about it. Todd manages much of his performance through body language, which makes him a pleasant change from the blunt, clenched fist of Kane or the various political characters.

Boss is a show I greatly enjoy watching, though I'd compare my interest in it more to Justified then any other show on TV. I watch to be impressed, to see how the character are going to get themselves out of whatever they've gotten themselves into, ending most episodes laughing, unable to express my impression any other way. I hope Starz gives it a third season, perhaps at a six or eight episode count, if only to see how much longer Kane can keep his head above water.

Now, if they'd just keep their damn pants on.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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