Review: Starz's 'Boss'

In the theme song for Frasier, Kelsey Grammer's fussy and fumbling psychiatrist sings of "tossed salad and scrambled eggs." As Thomas Kane, the ruthless mayor of Chicago in Starz's original drama series, Boss, Grammer is more about tossing tablets and scrambling heads (or at least twisting ears).

Where Grammer's Emmy-winning radio shrink attempted to dispense on-air wisdom, Kane wants to maintain control of the city and of himself. That is apparently not going to be an easy task: creator Farhad Safinia (Apocalypto) who penned the first two episodes, and director Gus Van Sant (Milk, Goodwill Hunting), open matters with Kane, an old school boss modeled after Chitown's own Richard Daly, finding out from a doctor in an abandoned slaughterhouse that he has a mix of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The disease is going to slur his speech, cripple his mind and take his body within three to five years.

It is through this frame that we view this Windy City version of King Lear, as Kane comes to grips, through measures of anger and self-pity, with his mortality. Presumably, this personal ticking timer -- at least through the first two episodes, he seems intent upon keeping his condition to himself -- informs his other actions: making sure he retains the privileges of his office, playing kingmaker and trying to repair relationships with his cold and calculating wife and their estranged progeny.
Meredith (Connie Nielsen), the scion of Kane's predecessor in office, has her own issues and interests, some of which are shared by her husband, as they maintain the public façade of their crippled marriage.
A minister, who also congregates at a health clinic, daughter Emma has her own dark secret, which figures to surface before her father's.
Sam Miller (Troy Garrity), a reporter looking to dig up a dirt on Kane, is likely the primary (only?) voice of morality in this tale of mayoral manipulation.
The rest of the main players comprise Kane's inner circle. Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan) serves as chief of staff, who may be concealing his own agenda. Political advisor Kitty (Kathleen Robertson) provides her boss with all the daily answers, while attending to the needs of Kane's protégé Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner) in a rooftop quickie, as the state senator's family walks floors below.
Kane's brand of leadership is not only corrupt, but ruthlessly heavy-handed. And with the rest of his crew brandishing flaws, they're not exactly a sympathetic Second City lot. Still, a similar cast construct has worked quite well in garnering acclaim and Emmy statues for AMC's Mad Men.
And given America's rising dissatisfaction with government, Boss could strike chords with viewers sick of the political swell and swill engulfing our nation.
Either way, Starz officials hope subscribers vote with their remotes on Friday nights -- especially since the premium channel has already elected Boss to a second term.

Premiering on Oct. 21,Boss airs Fridays on Starz at 10 p.m.