As Troy Patterson writes in his review, Boss, the new Kelsey Grammer-starring drama about Chicago politics on pay-cable channel Starz—the first episode of which you can watch in full below—“nakedly aspires to be a Great American TV Show.” Two of its principal touchstones, Patterson points out, are The Wire and King Lear—only the best TV show ever made and (perhaps) Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy.
Like the former, Boss aims to portray the various corners and discrete communities of an American city with multiple, overlapping storylines and dirty-realist detail. Like the latter, it centers on an autocrat—Grammer is Tom Kane, the mayor of Chicago—who is both physically degenerating and anguished by a daughter who has turned away from him. (The Wire, it should be said, had some Shakespearean elements of its own.)
Remarkably, in the pilot, at least, Boss wears these ambitions well. True, the show’s marriage of the gritty and the operatic is occasionally awkward (a long Upton Sinclair quote in the opening scene lands with a dull thud, for instance, and the flourishes of physical violence seem out of place). But it feels fitting for a show about ambition to itself be enormously ambitious.
It helps that the first episode was directed by Gus Van Sant and confidently employs a couple of his stylistic signatures: tight close-ups and deft, handheld camera work. And Grammer is entirely convincing. (Of course, he’s played an Orson Welles-ish, power-mad mayor before.) Martin Donovan and Kelly Robertson are both very good as Kane’s top aides.
Unlike Patterson, though, who was able to watch multiple episodes, all I’ve seen is the pilot—which I’ve embedded below. Let me know what you think.