Tag Archives: Boss

The Trouble With Politics on Homeland

3 Oct

Homeland’s great; the new season has just started, but based just on the first season alone, it’s one of my top four hour long programs on TV (along with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones), a very prestigious group.  However, no show is completely perfect and it’s always fun to slightly pick at the ones we love, in good fun, of course.

There’s something that rings false about talking about politics in a serious way on a television show or movie and trying to keep everything non-partisan.  With a show like Veep, it’s mostly doable, because it’s a comedy, and because the show is short on policy and long on silliness – the whole show is based around the idea that the Vice President essentially has no real power.  It’s still not ideal, but it’s simply less important – it still feels false that party never comes up, but it’s less of a big deal that it feels false, because of the above reasons, and because the stakes are so low.

As long as politics is on the fringes, like it was in most of the first season of Homeland,  this isn’t an issue.  The Vice President was mostly important because of his being a target, and his relationship with CIA director David Estes.  In this limited role, where the Vice President was mostly acting as a particularly political figure, it didn’t feel like party was necessarily relevant.  However, once Brody’s name was brought up as a Congressional candidate, Homeland veered into the trouble area.  There is simply no way you go into a congressional campaign, and the meetings and parties which Brody attended, without party coming up.

This season, with Brody a congressman, and being talked up in the first episode as a potential vice presidential candidate, already looks to be entering the more political sphere of Washington D.C.  Party is so wrapped up in today’s political scene that it feels false to have meetings with the Vice President talking about political matters without it ever coming up, even offhand.  Homeland tries to skirt this by only dealing with the Vice President, rather than the President or other prominent political figures, but now that the Vice President is clearly revving up his Presidential campaign, honestly avoiding parties just feels forced.  It feels like the otherwise natural conversations were jury-rigged to remove any natural hints of political party.

Sure, I understand the benefits of avoiding mention of political parties – choose the wrong one, and you immediately alienate half of your audience.  That’s a problem for TV sure, and it’s a calculation weighed against the negative lack of lack of naturalism, and as for the limited relationship with the CIA, in the first season of Homeland, it’s not really important.

Several other shows have had this issue.  Boss, in which I assumed from the get go that the mayor was Democratic, because there hasn’t been a Republican mayor of Chicago since the Great Depression.  Particularly in that situation, such a one-party system, not mentioning parties at any point seems to make even less sense than it does in other instances – the benefits to be gained by keeping out partisanship are lessened when everyone will just assume it’s Democratic anyway.  24 went back and forth; initial presidential candidate (and later president) David Palmer was clearly labeled a Democrat which made sense, and even though of course 24 wasn’t really about politics, it made a lot more sense to name the party, especially in the second and third season when he dealt with his cabinet, and his reelection campaign, and had a specific opponent.  However, 24 seems to stop talking about it as the show goes on, and by the time of the final president (there’s an insane number of Presidents in 24, but that’s a story for another day) party stops being mentioned entirely and it can only really be back engineered by figuring out the timeline of 24 that Allison Taylor is a Republican (or the very nature of American two party politics have drastically changed in the fictional 24 world).

In The Wire, which features a very Boss-like situation of a one party city, there’s no shying away from mentioning party.  David Simon, whose aim is to provide as realistic portrayals as possible, clearly labels Carcetti and essentially every other important political figure in the show as Democrats; to go throughout a campaign without party mention would break that naturalism.  The single most politics based show in recent memory is of course The West Wing, and the main characters are basically all Democrats; it would be ludicrous to imagine that show without party identity.  In a recent failed show which heavily revolved around politics, Commander in Chief, which starred Joan Allen as a Vice President, who ascends to President when the President dies, the creators partially cop out by having Allen play an independent (a Republican nominating an independent as his vice presidential candidate in this decade’s political climate?  ha), but at least labels her as a former moderate Republican, and the President she was elected with as a Republican.

Simply put, the fact is that it seems ridiculous to showcase a presidential election campaign nowadays without mentioning party, far and away the most important identifier of a candidate.  I’m not sure how close Homeland is going to take us into a potential Brody run in a presidential campaign as the vice presidential nominee, but the closer it decides to take us, the more limiting it feels to not label the party.

While I find this issue minorly troubling,  clearly it doesn’t deal with the very fabric of Homeland, and thus the show can and will still be excellent without it.  Still, I’m sure they won’t deal with it unless they absolutely have to, otherwise they would have by now.  For a show in which nearly every other interaction and scene feels true (even if it isn’t, what the hell do I know about the CIA, but that’s not really the point),  the political scenes feel off with the deliberate aversion of party.

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End of Season Review: Boss, Season 1

29 Aug

Boss, the Kelsey Grammer Starz show about a corrupt long-time Chicago mayor with an incurable brain disease (not a spoiler, you learn this in the first five minutes of the show – this article is low on plot specifics and thus spoiler free for all but the most sensitive of readers) not willing to give up his perch of power without a fight, is a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable way to spend eight episodes as long as  you’re willing to temporarily put aside some of your beliefs about, I don’t know, reality and the like (that sounds like a negative; but it’s not intended that way; Boss would hardly be the first quality show demanding this).  Boss, sometimes cleverly and sometimes not so cleverly takes little bits and pieces from a number of the best TV dramas of the past decade or so, and repurposes them for its own uses.

Kelsey Grammer plays longtime Chicago mayor Tom Kane, who has kept himself in power through a combination of canny manipulation, well-timed brutality, and giving all the right people just enough to be satisfied.  In addition, his threats carry more weight because he’s been there so long, and he seems unbeatable, and well, if you can’t beat him, you might as well join him.  As we join him, a year away from his own reelection efforts, at the same time when he discovers his neurological condition, or perhaps because of it, his opponents smell weakness, and see a real opportunity to end the Tom Kane era.  They’re willing to pull out every stop to do so.  A test of Kane’s strength is represented by the upcoming Democratic primary election, where he chooses to throw his support behind young renegade Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac against long-time governor McCall Cullen.  Meanwhile Kane is alternately helped and hindered by his two primary advisers, Ezra and Kitty, as well as by his wife Meredith, who married Tom as a measure of political convenience; she was the previous mayor’s daughter.

Boss takes from 24 the sense that there are moles all around constantly reporting on and sabotaging your every ploy, and occasionally overcomplicated, though exciting if you don’t think too much, and confusing plotlines.  From Game of Thrones Boss takes the idea that there are a few real players manipulating others for their own ends, while some, who think they are players, are merely pawns.  Everyone’s got their weakness, it’s just a matter of playing into it.  There are also got plenty of completely unnecessary boobs.  From The Sopranos, Boss gets Kane’s pure physical brutality, reminiscent of Tony, and his struggle to control an organization and hierarchy below him that is not always satisfied with his leadership, for different reasons.  Echoing Breaking Bad, Tom Kane has Walter White’s sense of survival at all costs, with his back up against the wall, and his willingness to use everybody around him, family and friends, however he needs to, in service of his own goals.  Boss has adopted Deadwood’s sense of language, in monologues in particular, as well as more careful manipulations (credit to Vulture for turning me on to the Deadwood comparison with a headline for article I didn’t want to read because I hadn’t seen the show yet).  Oh, and from Damages, Boss features a random hitman/shady dude who convinces a lot of people under threat of physical pain to do things, even though we have no idea who the guy is aside from these scenes or who he exactly works for.

I seriously hope real world Chicago politics, as potentially corrupt as they may be, don’t actually mirror Boss politics, because as far as Boss goes, the phrase skeletons in the closet needs to be altered to something like skeletons in the parking garage (a big garage, like four, five stories).  Also, although I’m fairly sure the skeletons in the traditional phrase are metaphorical, in Boss, at least some amount of time, they’re real.  Everybody’s cheating on everybody, nobody is honest or up front, and everybody has a plan to get what’s best for them, some of the plans better than others.

The events of Boss are utterly outlandish and frightening (actually less frightening for being so utterly outlandish) and stir up a lot of the much asked, but still always valid question of how far is too far for the end to ever justify the means.  Even more than that is the question of the just as old, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Characters are constantly choosing actions which put them in power while stomping over others, believing some combination of the idea that their being in power will help others and the idea that they simply need to be in power.

It’s not a perfect show by any means.  The pacing in episodes is not always the best, there’s sometimes a little too much Rubicon-like shady old white men in rooms planning things, and it hits some of the questions it asks a little too on the nose.

Still, flaws aside, I’m absolutely glad I watched the show.  After watching The Good Wife recently. I found it, though not a bad show, a show that was thoroughly uninterested, especially compared to the top shows I’m used to watching, and the distinction really struck me more than I expected.  Interesting’s such a mundane word, but shows that don’t follow the set obvious path over the course of a sesson, either by subtle tweaking, by treading on new ground entirely, or just by applying a new focus or a new lens are unfortunately uncommon. Potentially interesting shows often do fail, either very quickly, when they run out of ideas after the premise, like Terra Nova, or like Lost, remain, well, interesting, but become terrible for other reasons.  Being interesting is certainly not sufficient for a quality show.  However, I think it’s not a bad first hurdle to pass.  While Boss takes pieces from all these other places, it does make the synthesis all its own.  It’s not quite canonical but it’s not a show I feel like I’ve seen a hundred times before, and I enjoyed it.

Fall 2011 New Show Ranking

27 Dec

Well, we’ve just seen how I did in my predictions about the new shows in fall 2011.  Let’s take a look at what I actually think of them, rankings style.  I didn’t think it was a particularly strong season, as most of the shows sat in the healthy middle of mediocrity with a fair few as true garbage.  Although it’s a linear ranking, I’ve tried to point out when there’s a large gap between shows here and there.

1.  Homeland – far and away the best new show of the year – it’s not particularly close.  I’m not sure where they’ll go from here, but first season a must watch

2.  Revenge – surprisingly good for a trashy primetime soap and although that sounds like a backhand compliment, I really don’t mean it that way.  I enjoy this show thoroughly and Madeline Stowe is great.

3.  New Girl – improved as the season went on and seemed to find its place, the last of the three shows on this list that I’ve seen every episode of, and thus there’s a little drop off here

4.  Boss – I haven’t cared enough to watch more, but I was more impressed than I thought I’d be in the first episode, and more episodes could easily move this in either direction

5. Hell on Wheels – solid but not spectacular, I wish it was better, but I’m glad it’s not worse

6.. Ringer – 6 is higher than it should be, but it’s really just in a similar tier with the next few shows and I’ve seen more of it than the next few

7.  American Horror Story – I’ve never seen a show like it in any way, and I think I mean that as a compliment

8. The Secret Circle – the show is much more entertaining than it has any right to be for someone of my age and my gender

9. Terra Nova – It’s not great but it’s really not bad either.  There’s something to work with and I feel slightly more than ambivalent about continuing to watch

10.  Suburgatory – newer episodes are definitely better than the older episodes, and I like the two main actors, but it constantly battles not to not be a poor man’s Mean Girls

11.  Prime Suspect – you’ve just entered procedural country.  Prime Suspect is probably slightly the best of the bunch – it’s a minor shame it’s being cancelled but no Terriers

12.Grimm – second best of procedurals, my friend likes it because it takes place in his home state of Oregon, so props for that

13.Person of Interest – second in a row of shows my dad watches – he likes this one better, but I prefer Grimm slightly

14.Up All Night – it’s not bad, it’s just not really that good either – what in the world is Maya Rudolph doing here

15.Unforgettable – this may actually be better than one of the two above it – who even knows at this point?

16.A Gifted Man – repeat what I said about Unforgettable.  The show is fine but hardly compelling

17.Pan Am – we’re still in the section of shows I don’t completely want to bash, I just want to let them be ignored

18. Hart of Dixie– Rachel Bilson is good, I guess. Alabama seems pretty boring.  Is that the message?  Still not at the bad ones.

19.Enlightened – People tell me it gets better after the first episode, and maybe it does.  Laura Dern’s character was just so annoying.

20.Free Agents – shows starting to get bad here – it had two good characters, and a bunch of terrible ones

21.Once Upon A Time – why do people like this?  This is exactly the type of show people like to pretend is interesting and complex but really isn’t

22.  Man Up – men aren’t really men anymore part 1 – possible but hard to win with that premise

23.  Last Man Standing – men aren’t really men anymore part 2- much more patently offensive than the previous

24.  Allen Gregory – animated misstep – close enough to a good show to maybe understand what the creators were thinking but far enough away that it will never get there

25. I Hate My Teenage Daughter –  a generic instructional example of a bad traditional sitcom

26.  How To Be A Gentlemen – why do so many actors who were in shows with more modern forms of comedy (It’s Always Sunny inPhiladelphia, Mr. Show, Flight of the Conchords) sink to this?

27.  Playboy Club – Saying that Amber Heard is attractive is about the nicest thing I can say about this show

28.  Chalie’s Angels – Saying that Minka Kelly is attractive is about the nicest thing I can say about this show

29.  Whitney – and here we are, a Whitney Cummings two-some – whoever thought this show made sense after Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office should be shot, tarred, and feathered

30.  2 Broke Girls – there is nothing redeeming about this show – the fact that it is popular embarrasses the US as much as the existence of the death penalty

Fall 2011 Review: Boss

10 Dec

Boss wastes no time in its pilot.  Its first scene is a doctor letting the titular “Boss,” Kelsey Grammer’s Tom Kane, current mayor of Chicago, know that he has a degenerative brain disease, which will slowly deteriorate his higher and then lower mental functions.  Eventually he will barely be able to function and will need full time care.  He takes the news, reminds the doctor that the report is confidential and moves on with his day.  He makes a speech on behalf of the current gorvernor, but we soon learn that even though he’s nothing but kind in person, he’s looking to unseat the governor with a young state treasurer.  He offers to put his support behind the treasurer in exchange for favors later.  A find of Indian artifacts in a graveyard throws off his big legacy project, an expansion to O’Hare and Kane engages in a variety of different hardcore old-style political maneuvering to get his airport expansion back on track.  This includes paying off the Indians with building contracts, tacking on an amendment to give him all decisions over the Indian artifacts to a necessary trash bill, and violently assaulting the alderman responsible for the contractor who discovered the Indian artifacts and talked about the discovery on TV.  The airport expansion seems like his most important legacy and he’s willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get it done.  That of course entails telling no one about his medical condition and more than that having an associate of his associate violently threaten the doctor about not revealing any confidential information.

We see a little bit of his family as well.  His wife is seen at a school dressing down a contractor who was supposed to bring the schools up to some minimum condition.  It’s clear that she’s a veteran of playing old-school political games as well.  At home, it seems like things are strained between them but there’s obviously some respect.  We meet Kane’s daughter as well who has the strangest plot of the episode.  She is working as a medical clinic and after helping a young African-American and his uncle, tracks down the kid for some drugs which she then throws away.  Also, she appears to not be so close with her father; they talk briefly, but he doesn’t have her cell number.

There was also a gratuitous stairway sex scene between the state treasurer and Kane’s advisor that I don’t exactly understand the purpose for, but okay.

Overall, Boss used its first episode fairly wisely and ended up being a much more interesting pilot than I expected.  It helped us learn a fair amount about our main character, and enough to make some bigger guesses at character relationships while setting several plot strands into motion.  These strands seem likely to crash into one another at one point in the future.

Kane has the making of a fascinating character, struggling to do good both for himself but also for his city, while willing to cross many lines to do it.  Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, this is all complicated by a premise of a disease which is a ticking clock, limited his time to get things done.  The political arena is ripe for a character drama.  Kane is old school and hard and certainly no Jeb Bartlett from The West Wing, nor Tommy Carcetti from The Wire, though maybe he’d be more similar to Carcetti’s predecessor Clarence Royce if we ever saw a drama about him.  The first episode was a chance to see Kane display the full range of his political tactics and watch them work so we can understand why he’s both a respected and feared mayor and so we have a baseline for when situations inevitably go less smoothly as the season goes on.  There’s a host of relationships to be explored, between Kane and his wife and daughter as well as between Kane and his long time staff members.  He’s going to have to continue to maneuver to keep his airport project on track as well as push his favored candidate for governor from behind the scenes.  Honestly, I think the show sounds intriguing even without the looming medical condition.

Will I watch again?  I’m not sure why I expected to not like the show at all, but I didn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s earned at least a couple more episodes.

Fall 2011 Preview: Cable

5 Oct

Homeland – Showtime – 10/2/11

 

Homeland stars Claire Daines as a CIA analyst who obtains a piece of intelligence about terrorist activity that no one else knows, which is that an American prisoner of war has been turned by Al Queda.  She makes nothing of that information until a POW marine who has been away eight years is discovered alive in Iraq.  Hailed as an American hero, the POW, played by Damian Lewis, may be a terrorist, or Daines may be crazy.  Nothing but great buzz here, and it sounds more intriguing than any other new show as a layered psychological thriller.

Prediction:  Renewal – best buzz of the year, and that’s worth even more on a premium network, and even more on Showtime, which still wants to be HBO

American Horror Story – FX – 10/5/11

 

The preview looks insane, and about the only fact I know, other than that Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton and their kid move into a haunted house is that Britton has sex with a ghost in a latex suit in the first episode, and frankly that leaves me even more confused.  Ryan Murphy has an extremely hit and miss record (Nip/Tuck, Glee) and horror is a genre that you generally don’t see on television, because it doesn’t play well for the long run.  From what buzz I have read, a ton takes place in the first episode, enough to make the episode exciting in and of itself but to wonder where the show goes from there, and why the fuck the couple doesn’t just move out.  This’ll probably take a couple episodes of watching to figure out whether it’s worthwhile.

Prediction:  Renewal – I honestly don’t know what to think, but here’s a stab

Hell on Wheels – 11/6/11

Set during the building of the transcontinental railroad, the series features a confederate soldier determined to take revenge on union soldiers who murdered his wife.  Deadwood is the first comparison that springs to mind, due to the time period.  It looks at least interesting, and as a history major, I tend to be a sucker for historically-based shows.  Apparently reconstruction plays a part, and Native American attacks, and who knows what else.

Prediction: Renewal – I have just as little idea as with the show above, but since Rubicon’s been the only non-Renewed show on AMC so far, I’ll take the odds

Boss – Starz – 10/21/11

 

Kelsey Grammer stars as the mayor of Chicago who has been recently diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease.  He keeps this from everyone, his family, friends and staff, who are generally too busy with their own priorities to notice him slipping.  Political intrigue and family drama are in play, with administration members shooting for higher office, and a relationship between Grammar and his wife that may be falling apart.  I’m not sure it will be good, but it certainly could be.

Verdict: Renewal – this is downright cheating – it’s already been renewed, which is admittedly kind of incredible.  I wish Party Down got this kind of support from Starz.

Enlightened – HBO – 9/10/11

Laura Dern portrays an executive with a public breakdown in this HBO comedy.  Buzz seems to be at least slightly positive.  Luke Wilson plays her ex-husband, and Diane Ladd playes her mother.  Creator Mike White wrote for Freaks and Geeks and wrote School of Rock, but also wrote Nacho Libre.  This preview is admittedly weak but after the varying and distinct dramatic premises of the shows above, it’s hard to find a lot to say about Enlightened, especially before watching it.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just in a premise-is-a-lot-less-important-in-comedy-so-let’s-wait-and-see way.

Prediction:  Renewal – it’s absolutely ridiculous I’ve predicted renewal for all of these, though I feel anecdotally shows are more likely to get picked up on premium cable networks.