Boss – Pilot
The Starz network is the latest in a long line of minor cable networks who are trying their hand at original programming in the hopes that they will break through like AMC has. To call them competative copiers would be incorrect though, because in many ways the content that they have chosen to produce has almost been the exact antithesis of AMC’s; whereas that channel has gone for a model of classily shot small, slow-burning dramas (Mad Men, Rubicon, The Killing) they have launched themselves with a number of big, semi-botched but all balls to the wall genre efforts (Spartacus, Torchwood). Their latest program seems at first to be as massive a diversion from the model as The Walking Dead was to AMC’s; it’s the story of an inner city mayor – Chicago to be exact – who is faced with continuing his political life in the wake of a recently diagnosed mental illness. Not quite kin to the romans and romulans of the networks other shows is it?
Though at first it may seem like the networks had their shows switched at birth – that The Boss should have followed up Breaking Bad while The Walking Dead debuted here – once you’ve actually seen the show you’ll know just why it is the Starz brass took it on and more importantly, how. Just like how The Walking Dead tried to be the classily-shot, small, slow-burning version of the zombie movie, The Bossis the amped up, ultraviolent version of the political show. Given that it has a banal, almost stolid feel to it the content of this show is surpisingly dark; the depths of the violence and depravity on show are shocking, though less in a visceral sense and more from their retrospective incongruity. I’m not sure if this really suits the show’s purpose, if it helps it deliver the message it wants to, but it does suit Starz and so I guess thats why it’s here.
Though unlike in The Walking Dead you can strip away these occasional moments of breaking voices and breaking bones quite easily and once you do the show is simply another slow, dark character piece like we have come to expect from cable; the Starz touch here is extraneous, restricted only to the surface. Though to be honest the surface is also where the majority of the show lies. The Boss isn’t just a political show, it’s a politician: a shiny surface that delivers enough on all the neccesary beats to placate publicists by but lacks the requisite content to ever truely connect to an audience. It is stylishly shot, but the techniques used are never particularly stunning. The stat and term-filled speeches are remarkably written and delivered but feel cold in comparison to TV’s other monolouged moments; they are almost technical exercises rather than pieces of creative writing. As a whole I would say that its aethetic has smarts but lacks sexy.
Chicago is an interesting city and it’s truely very good to see it still on the screen after the Code was cut earlier in the year; though that said I can’t honestly say that this is a show that holds my interest. There is nothing wrong with it, no massive plot departures like Torchwood, no dodgy effects or affectations like Spartacus and no over-reliance on lowest common denominator sex and gore like the rest of Starz’ output, but it also lacks the clever central core that made those shows watchable despite their flaws. This is a show that could become great and powerful one day, but for now it’s quite simply still a subordinate to the rest of TV’s amazing programming. Wait for DVD.