Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Digital Divide: August 2012

| July 31, 2012

Boss: Season One

It has become increasingly clear that the quality of programming on the major networks has been in a serious nose dive for almost a decade. There used to be a time when serious, thoughtful dramas and well-written comedies were actually the norm. Apparently, with a few rare exceptions, those went out with VCRs.

Luckily, the cable networks have picked up the baton and run with it. HBO pioneered the new direction, from “The Larry Sanders Show” to “The Sopranos” and “Deadwood,” which in turn led other networks to go to school with their own prestige titles. “Mad Men,” “The Walking Dead,” “Shameless” – they wouldn’t get the time of day on the Big Three.

Starz was a little late to the party, but the jewel in its crown stands up to any of the other quality offerings.

“Boss” takes place amid the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago politics. The stereotype of the smoke-filled backroom deals has long been the the city’s calling card, but you toss in a little sex and family dysfunction and you’ve got “Boss.”

The cast is uniformly strong. Kelsey Grammer is Mayor Tom Kane, Connie Nielsen as his wife, and for no other reason than if fits her needs, Hannah Ware as the estranged daughter. Also along for the ride is Martin Donovan as Kane’s senior aid and Kathleen Robertson as his assistant.

Make no mistake though, “Boss” is completely and totally Grammer’s.

Those who are only familiar with Grammer as Frasier Crane M.D. Ph.D. A.P.A. (a group that comprises about 99.5-percent of the population) will be stunned by his range and depth. Grammer’s Kane is not simply Da Mare, he’s a man dealing with a slowly degenerative disease.

As such, Kane rules the city – and thanks to his dominance over the weak-willed governor, the state – with an iron fist. If there’s something he wants, or if something gets in his way, he’ll bully, intimidate, or even blackmail to get what he wants. In the pantheon of TV anti-heroes, he’s J.R. Ewing, Tony Soprano, and “Breaking Bad”‘s Walter White all rolled into one. Still, Grammer brings a humanity to the character. You get the feeling that even he wouldn’t be vile enough to sell the city’s parking meters.

Season One’s Blu-ray release features are a bit scarce. There are only commentary tracks by creator Farhad Safinia and executive producer Richard Levine, as well as cinematographer Kasper Tuxen. An interview segment with Grammer and Safinia discussing the Shakespearian scope of the series is nice (ah, “Deadwood”), but there needs to be more to justify not just streaming it.

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones: Live At The Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981
Eagle Vision

The Rolling Stones’ debt to the blues, and Chicago’s in particular, is no secret. So it’s a little less than shocking to see them hop on stage with one of their idols for an impromptu set.

Live At The Checkerboard Lounge finds Mick, Keith, Ronny, and pianist Ian Stewart in the midst of their 1981 stadium tour. They took the time (as they often do when they’re in Chicago) to hit a club and jam with the headliner. It just makes it a little more special when the headliner is Muddy Waters.

Despite the claustrophobic atmosphere, cameras were on hand to catch the set, and while it’s not exactly HD, it’s generally professional enough quality.

The problem is in the presentation. It’s billed as a concert by the Stones and Waters, when in reality Waters only performs five of the disc’s 15 songs, with Jagger only joining him for three. Granted, appearances by Buddy Guy, Lefty Dizz, and Junior Wells help make up for the shortcomings, but that’s not how it’s billed.

Still, quibbles about the title is probably just picking nits, as the talent assembled is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s a great who’s who of the blues world.

The two-disc DVD set features the video on one disc, and a CD version on the second, as well as two extra tracks.

— Timothy Hiatt

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Category: Columns, Digital Divide, Monthly

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