Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Best Show Nobody's Watching

The advent of cable television has led to a new golden age of television. With so many channels and so many choices, it's easy to find high quality shows with intelligent writing, fantastic acting, and compelling plots. HBO is the golden standard for TV, but you can find many HBO quality shows out there on basic cable.

But television is still a business. And low ratings and media buzz means that scripted shows, which are extremely expensive to produce, have to get cancelled. The shows that I like tend to have a small audience. I'm not trying to burnish my TV hipster cred, because I wish the shows I liked were more popular. But I realize the fact that most viewers aren't watching television for high quality drama.

That being said, there is a show that I watch that has criminally low ratings. And it's pretty easy to see why. It's not a feel good show. There is no escapism. The characters are unlikeable and intensely flawed. And it's about local politics. There is nothing that suggests that this show would have ever been a ratings hit. But it is damn good television.

Boss is a show about a powerful and corrupt politician who's dying. The Mayor of Chicago, Tom Kane, has been diagnosed with a horrifying terminal illness. And despite being in office for decades, Kane is determined to hold onto power for as long as possible, even as his body and mind slowly betray him.
It's pretty awesome.

It's incredible how the show can make one of its major plot points, the Democratic gubernatorial primary for Illinois (riveting stuff, I know), intensely interesting. But it succeeds. Anybody who follows politics would be fascinated by the realistic depiction of the characters in the show. They swear a lot. They're extremely cynical. Their public and private personas don't sync up at all. It's fascinating listening to political operatives dispense advice (that would be political suicide to say out aloud) with such nonchalance. Here's a few excerpts from one of the characters (who also happens to be the ultimate political pro):

On a description of one of the primary candidates:

"He's ready. His attacks on Cullen are gaining some serious balls....he either doesn't give a shit or he's the most ambitious son of a bitch I've ever seen. He's straight. Goes to church. Family, kids. Camera loves him. He's young, but the game has changed. Nobody cares about that anymore."

On political protesters:

"Despite the crowd outside with nothing better to do than to picket City Hall on a Monday morning, what concerns me is...."

 On the right to privacy:

"Something Homeland Security said about us having the best surveillance of any city in the country. Now the ACLU is up in arms. Usual bullshit. That a camera on every corner, especially ones with facial recognition, is a breach of the right to privacy. I told Myers to counter with..."

I could listen to this guy talk about politics for weeks.

And Kelsey Grammer is absolutely fantastic as Tom Kane. He plays it like a consummate Chicago pol. Tough, determined, fierce, and intensely paranoid about his political opponents. Always with a card to play. Watching him play a hardass politician who's succumbing to a gruesome disease is pretty amazing. It's like watching a modern day Shakespearean tragedy.

I could list some faults of the show. But that'd be doing you a disservice. Go out and watch it. STARZ (good god, I can't believe they actually thought that was a good name) has the first episode of the second season available for free. Watch it. Thank me later.

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