Kelsey Grammer buries Frasier Crane under six feet of political dirt and hard-core acting in “Boss,” a gritty Starz drama that does for Chicago politics what “The Sopranos” did for New Jersey waste management.
Grammer stars as Windy City mayor Tom Kane, a ruthless politico whose grip on both the city and his own life are threatened by a newly diagnosed degenerative brain disorder. No one knows about the mayor’s condition except his doctor -- and she’ll wish she didn’t.
As Kane’s illness announces itself in chilling ways -- the tough-talking mayor goes momentarily blank during a speech -- Grammer captures the volcanic anger and deep fear in a powerful characterization.
While the mayor copes with his secrets, the muddy waters of Chicago politics flow on. In a move that stuns his longtime allies, Kane throws his support behind a young, untested candidate for governor.
“The only thing you’re missing is heft,” Kane tells the handsome upstart. “And here I am.”
Kane’s protege (well played by Jeff Hephner) might appear idealistic, but “Boss” isn’t. No one has clean hands, least of all the candidate who has more than All-American looks in common with John Edwards.
Kane’s personal life is no rosier. His marriage of convenience to a Chi-Town Lady Macbeth (Connie Nielsen) provides no comfort, and the couple has long turned away from their troubled adult daughter (Hannah Ware).
Meanwhile, a Carl Bernstein-like reporter (Troy Garity) is closing in on Kane’s medical condition and a massive, shady land deal at O’Hare Airport that the mayor considers his civic legacy.
Like its main character, “Boss” can be too determined to announce its heft. One reference to “Citizen Kane” is one too many, and several shocking moments of violence and retribution -- one involving body parts and a garbage disposal -- strain the “Sopranos” fixation.
Little matter. “Boss” has already been renewed by Starz for a second season, and it deserves the re-election.
“Boss” airs Friday on Starz at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
‘Sing Your Song’
Harry Belafonte’s social activism takes the spotlight in HBO’s “Sing Your Song,” Susanne Rostock’s loving documentary profile of the singer.
Produced in part by Belafonte’s own company, “Sing Your Song” is distinguished, for better and worse, by its intimate access to the singer, his family, friends and admirers. Belafonte charmingly recounts his many dealings with Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedys, Nelson Mandela and other historical figures.
Belafonte’s musical career isn’t ignored, including such highlights as his career-making recording of “Banana Boat (Day-O)” and a 1968 television appearance in which singer Petula Clark touched his arm and sent racists into a mouth-foaming tailspin.
However, “Sing Your Song” sacrifices depth for an inspirational tone. Two divorces are skimmed over quickly, and the closest the film comes to acknowledging Belafonte’s human failings is when son David says dad divided his fatherly attention between his biological children and “the family of man.”
“Sing Your Song” airs tonight on HBO at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
PBS’s “Nature” series kicks off its 30th season in fine form with the hour-long documentary “Radioactive Wolves.”
It’s not a horror film, at least not of the giant monster variety. “Radioactive Wolves” infiltrates the no man’s land of Chernobyl, where packs of radiation-defying wolves have been rumored to flourish.
Contrary to some scientific predictions, the vast miles surrounding the long-abandoned nuclear power plant have become anything but a dead zone. Twenty-five years after history’s worst nuclear-plant disaster, wild life has blossomed.
Packs of howling wolves have indeed reclaimed the area, recovering from the near-extinction that resulted from the Soviet Union’s taming of the land for collective farming.
“Radioactive Wolves” suggests how quickly and efficiently nature reinvents itself in human absence. Man’s disaster is a wolf’s happy ending.
“Radioactive Wolves” airs Wednesday on PBS’s “Nature” at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)