Look who’s boss now

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television 17 - LYNN CAMERON BOSS, W chan­nel ( Aus­tar), Wed­nes­day, 8pm

HE’S best known as the fusspot ra­dio psy­chol­o­gist Dr Crane on long- run­ning sit­com Frasier as well as the voice of the psy­chotic Sideshow Bob in The Simp­sons so his lat­est role, as the power- driven mayor of Chicago in new po­lit­i­cal drama Boss, is some­thing of a change of di­rec­tion for Kelsey Gram­mer ( pic­tured).

Cer­tainly, there’s no trace of the af­fa­ble Frasier in Mayor Tom Kane, a ruth­less, de­mand­ing, un­for­giv­ing and gen­er­ally un­pleas­ant man de­ter­mined to stamp his author­ity on the city and ce­ment his place as one of Chicago’s most suc­cess­ful may­ors.

But any doubts Kane is a stretch for the Emmy award- win­ning comedian dis­ap­pear in the very first scene.

Watch­ing Kane sit im­pas­sively as he is in­formed he has a de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­or­der that will even­tu­ally claim his life is a pow­er­ful kick start to a per­for­mance that jus­ti­fies the net­works com­mis­sion­ing of a sec­ond sea­son weeks be­fore sea­son one even pre­miered in the US.

The strength of the show comes not only from Gram­mer’s ap­par­ent de­light in por­tray­ing such an un­like­able char­ac­ter but also in his abil­ity to bal­ance Kane’s unattrac­tive traits with a more hu­man side.

For, de­spite be­ing the most pow­er­ful man in Chicago, Kane’s life is in cri­sis: as well as his ter­mi­nal ill­ness, his mar­riage is a sham­bles and he is es­tranged from his daugh­ter, Emma ( Han­nah Ware).

It’s a sit­u­a­tion Gram­mer rel­ishes. Kane has now reached a point in his life where he must con­front him­self, Gram­mer says.

To me it’s al­ways more in­ter­est­ing when a char­ac­ter flirts with the idea of re­demp­tion rather than seek­ing it out.

Kane’s re­la­tion­ship with his wife is frozen and, while he wants to reach out to his daugh­ter, he al­most can’t re­mem­ber the steps of how healthy re­la­tion­ships func­tion.

But per­haps Kane’s most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship in Boss is to the city of Chicago it­self. ‘‘ We chose Chicago be­cause it is the city of the big shoul­ders,’’ Gram­mer says.

‘‘ And that typ­i­fies who this guy is. Tom Kane’s life en­ergy, if you will, comes from Chicago. It’s got a swag­ger about it, an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic that re­ally is unique to Chicago.

‘‘ What he does un­der­stand is that his iden­tity is the city of Chicago.

‘‘ It’s his love of the city; its place in his­tory as well as his place in his­tory.

‘‘ That’s what con­nects him to his own life and that’s what I like about him.’’

Of course, be­ing a po­lit­i­cal drama, Kane isn’t the only am­bi­tion- driven player in Boss.

His wife, Meredith ( played by Gla­di­a­tor and The Devil’s Ad­vo­cate ac­tor Con­nie Nielsen) is a for­mi­da­ble Chicago power player in her own right, while his chief of staff, Kitty O’Neill ( Hol­ly­wood­land ’ s Kath­leen Robert­son) has her eyes on the prize in her af­fair with am­bi­tious young politi­cian Ben Za­jac ( Jeff Heph­ner, The OC), whom Kane is groom­ing to fol­low in his foot­steps.

Gram­mer’s own tur­bu­lent life over re­cent years has pos­si­bly pro­vided rich ex­pe­ri­ence to draw from: the fail­ure of two post- Frasier com­edy se­ries, Hank and Back to You, his heart at­tack in 2008 which al­most ended his life, fol­lowed by an ac­ri­mo­nious di­vorce from Camille Gram­mer that played out in the pub­lic eye thanks to the lat­ter’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in The Real Housewives of Bev­erly Hills.

‘‘ We all have our own his­tory of dam­age and tragedy and up­set and be­tray­als, but mine has been rich . . . and well doc­u­mented.’’

A lot of that is bound to sur­face in view­ers’ minds as they watch the show.

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