SOMETHING strange is going on with television releases on DVD. Some distributors are right on it, with home entertainment releases the day after the TV broadcast. Some, thank you ABC, even have local series on sale before their freeto-air run is complete. Then there are the US studios that hold back series from DVD release for periods that defy logic.
Release windows should be shrinking, particularly when illegal downloading is so pervasive. My neighbours played a too-loud version of The Wolf of Wall Street last week, more than a week before its Australian release. And yes, I can confirm there are at least 400 profanities. Pardon my whine but it is difficult not to do so when the best home entertainment release of the week — Blue Jasmine excepted — is a TV series that aired early last year: Boss (MA15+, Fox, 584min, $39.99). Its second series has already aired in the US.
It stars Kelsey Grammer as a conniving Chicago politician. Grammer, of course, was a star of Cheers and its accomplished spin-off, Frasier. Cheers remains in the top echelon of American sitcoms, and that echelon is a small one inhabited by Seinfeld and The Simpsons (I’ll defer judgment of All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show to my elders).
Yet the cast members of Cheers have all had varying fortunes since leaving the Boston bar. Who would have anticipated Grammer, who played the uptight psychiatrist Frasier Crane, would be the most successful? Sure, Ted Danson has blossomed lately in some solid TV, and Woody Harrelson gets it right sporadically but Shelley Long, Kirstie Alley, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger became relative footnotes (notwithstanding the latter’s run as a good-luck charm in every Pixar film).
Grammer made some horrendous comedy movies after Frasier; his performance as the Chicago mayor Tom Kane is a redemption. This is a very strong, underrated and imperfect drama that presents local politics with most of its warts.
The opening episode — directed by Gus Van Sant, no less — is busy and chock-full of plot tangents and the big reveal that the mayor has a medical disorder that makes him a ticking time bomb. The series, created by Farhad Safinia, is only cynical within its characters. Chicago politics, the forming ground of Barack Obama, is notoriously feisty. It provides fertile material for TV drama. Safinia’s major achievement is the dirt. Boss eschews the idealism of The West Wing, going hard with some prescient Chicago plots and mixing it by preferring to err, occasionally, on the side of soap opera. More obviously, Boss nods to The Wire, if anything.
The politics always feels real and Grammer surprises amid a compelling cast, including Connie Nielsen, Kathleen Robertson and Martin Donovan. I loved Boss a long time ago on TV. The second series, not the first, should be on DVD this week.