C+

Boss: “Listen”

C+

Boss

“Listen”

Season 1, Episode 3

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As you probably know by now, no episode of Boss would be complete without Kathleen Robertson baring some portion of her flesh. It's become an inevitability: just as the sun rises in the east, so too will Kathleen Robertson bare her nipples on Boss

It was something of a relief that the requisite sex scene arrived early in “Listen” and, all things being considered, it was relatively tame (doggy style in a conference room—yawn).  In other good news, there are clues emerging which suggest that Kitty is an actual human being, rather than a bespectacled sex robot. At the commercial shoot, Zajac asks Kitty to meet up with him later—for some sex on home plate at Wrigley Field, I’m guessing—but she turns him down. Why doesn’t she meet up with him? Zajac’s wife seems nice, and he propositions Kitty while his kids are frolicking a few feet away, which is icky, so perhaps Kitty’s feeling guilty?

The more likely possibility is that Kitty doesn’t want any messy complications messing with her hot sex life. She’d prefer to keep her relationship with Zajac strictly professional, i.e. limited to perfunctory intercourse in public places. Later in the episode, Kitty meets with Alderman Solomou to tell him that Kane won’t support his re-election bid. Dejected, she takes a strange dude home (or, more likely, to the bathroom stall) after sizing up his package. It’s safe to say Kitty has some issues: she’s sexually impulsive, a little self-destructive. She’s still a bit of a cliché—the ball-busting professional woman who can handle anonymous sex but not emotional attachment—but that’s better than being a cartoon character. 

Some commenters have jokingly suggested that there’s a nipple quota on Starz, but I’m beginning to think this might actually be the case. Since Kitty was only partially nude this week, but Boss made up for that nipple shortage elsewhere. In the least gratuitous scene, Emma and Darius share a post-coital conversation about the drugs she needs to procure illegally in order to keep the clinic open (Sounds like a great cost-saving measure to me! What could possibly go wrong?). Far more gratuitous were the two prostitutes fondling each other while Kane delivered a completely ridiculous monologue (about which more later). Then, when Mayor Rutledge’s nurse stripped down to the buff and seduced Kane pretty much out of nowhere, I had to laugh. For a show that purports to be gritty and realistic, Boss is about 50% pure male fantasy. Oh look, it’s a sweet, nurturing, and curvaceous nurse who’s also totally hot for paunchy middle-aged guys. If the point of the endless flesh parade is to show us the mayor has a lot of empty, unfulfilling sexual encounters, we got the message the last 5 times he had an empty, unfulfilling sexual encounter. The nips are not only gratuitous, they’re also a distraction from what should be the show’s main purpose: storytelling.

With that off my chest (so to speak), the other thing Boss just can’t seem to get enough of are the silly monologues. Kelsey Grammer has never met a wordy speech he didn’t like. The guy just loves squinting and staring off into the distance and giving people unsolicited history lessons like the following: “One of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. Men bold enough to believe they could do the impossible--change the river’s flow. And they did it.” Hoo boy, this is one guy you do not want to get stuck next to at a dinner party.

It’s at this point I ought to disclose something: I think Kelsey Grammer is a part of the problem. Yes, I know, he’s a “great actor,” but he’s also an incorrigible scenery chewer. So much of the writing in Boss is already totally overwrought, and Grammer’s theatrical style only exacerbates the problem. Take the scene with the prostitutes. While they’re going at it, Kane recites a ridiculous monologue comparing himself to an “old gray mare.”(Get it?) Disgusted, he leaves the room, but not before actually saying “My kingdom for a horse,” an extremely subtle reminder that Boss is a very serious show full of Shakespearean themes and dramatic irony. During the meeting with Cullen, Kane has another mental lapse but still manages to mumble a few lines about “bread and circuses,” an allusion to the fall of the Roman Empire (obvs). There’s a symbiotic relationship between the heavy-handed writing and Grammer’s performance: He clearly loves to ham it up, and the writers give him plenty of material to work with.

But the silliest part of this episode is Kane’s decision to force his doctor into hiding so that she doesn’t leak word of his medical condition. Kickbacks are one thing, but forced disappearances? Is Kane the mayor of Chicago or Augusto Pinochet? It’s wildly over-the-top, but even tactically it makes no sense. Kane’s medical condition seems to be declining pretty rapidly; he’s already experiencing tremors and mental lapses. What’s the point of sending his doctor away for years when he’s going to be drooling on himself by then anyway?

Despite my kvetching, there are some things that are working for me. I really like the storyline involving Sam and his investigation into the O’Hare construction site. It’s progressing at a deliberate pace, but the plot seems based in reality in a way that nothing else on Boss is. I also like Troy Garity’s unforced performance. He hasn’t gotten to do much yet, but that’s fine. This series desperately needs a few quiet workhorses and not so many show ponies (sorry, the equine metaphors are contagious.) I know this doesn’t exactly sound scientific, but I also just believe Garity as a reporter, though maybe it’s because he resembles Dustin Hoffman circa 1975.

I also think Connie Nielsen is doing a superb job as Kane’s wife, and I like that she’s the one person capable of making him nervous. Political wives are often depicted as Lady Macbeth types, but Nielsen reins in the melodrama by playing Meredith with icy rage rather than histrionics. I’m curious if her pet issue—education privatization—will come up in later episodes. (Next week on Boss, it’s Michelle Rhee!)

The Cullen stuff is also working for me. Again, it’s not the freshest material, but it feels somewhat authentic, and the stuff with the alleged gay lover brings some desperately needed laughs. Cullen’s aid tells him he’s up three points with Asian-Americans. “Apparently they approve of your taste in men,” he explains. I laughed! It felt good! More of this, please.

Stray observations:

  • Is it just me, or you want to call Zajac “Sajak” (as in “Pat”)?
  • Just wondering: how can Moco hear anything if his ears got chopped off and his head is covered in bandages?
  • Is Hannah Ware English? I’m noticing a lot of accent issues there, which are not doing much to help her listless performance.
  • Meredith’s a miserable bitch, but she has pretty great clothes.
  • In case you’re keeping track of the pretentious quotations on the show, so far we’ve got Upton Sinclair, Shakespeare (Richard III to be exact), and Juvenal. Let me know if I missed any.
Filed Under: TV, Boss

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