Boss presents the Kelsey Grammer that ex-wife Camille Grammer has described ad nauseam on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: cold, grim, aloof, withholding. Except this is a fictional Grammer, the anti-Frasier. As Tom Kane, the mayor of Chicago, the actor lets his deep voice become growly, his demeanor surly whenever it’s not fake-smiley. It’s a portrait of a politician as a furious fixer.
Kane revels in his public power, but personally he’s in trouble. He’s diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder, and his marriage (to a well-chilled Connie Nielsen) is a sham. He’s surrounded by sharks both loyal and ready to betray him. (The standout here is Kathleen Robertson’s tight-skirted, tightly wound adviser Kitty.) Boss wants to be a Shakespearean tragedy, but it operates best as a swift melodrama.
The pilot, directed by Gus Van Sant (Milk), establishes Kane’s ruthlessness, with a few welcome moments of levity, such as an angry rival tossing an assistant’s iPad into a marsh because the thing always brings him bad news. Grammer’s performance is intense. Perhaps too intense; it needs a few grace notes of weariness and worry that the actor has used so well in comedies, but brought to bear in a serious context. What Boss must do to remain interesting (it’s already been renewed for a second season, so there’s no danger of cancellation) is avoid the depressing murk that eventually overtook the most recent season of Damages, another quality antihero show. B