Boss: Season 1

 

Boss: Season One

Created by Farhad Safinia

Written by Farhad Safinia, Bradford Winters, Lyn Greene, Richard Levine, Angelina Burnett

Photography by Kasper Tuxen

Editing by Stephen Mark, Jo Francis & J. Kathleen Gibson

Music by Brian Reitzell

Produced by Richard Levine, Kelsey Grammer, Farhad Safinia, Brian Sher & Gus Van Sant

Directed by Mario Van Peebles, Jean de Segonzac, Jim McKay & Gus Van Sant

First Aired on STARZ, Oct 21-Dec 9, 2011

 

Cast:

Kelsey Grammer

Connie Nielsen

Kathleen Robertson 

Hannah Ware

Jeff Hephner

Martin Donovan

Francis Guinan

Troy Garity

Rotimi Akinosho

Daniel J. Travanti

 

Production Studio:

Theatrical: STARZ Television

Video: LionsGate

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD50 x 2

Feature Size: 44.86 + 43.20 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (20-30 Mbps)

Runtime: 450 minutes

Episodes: 8

Chapters per episode: 8 

Region: A

 

Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 7.1

 

Subtitles:

English

 

Extras:

• Episode Commentaries with Series Creator Farhad Safinia, DP Kasper Tuxen & Exec Producer Richard Levine

• “The Mayor & His Maker” with Farhad Safinia & Kelsey Grammer - in HD (16:35)

• Trailer

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray Case: BRD x 2

Street Date: July 23, 2012



Critical Press:

The Hollywood Reporter

You can look back at the history of any number of storied cable channels and pick the series that truly set them on the right course -- the series that made them players. For HBO, it was The Sopranos; for Showtime, it was Dexter; for FX, it was The Shield; and for AMC, it was Mad Men.

Boss, which kicks off with a beautiful directorial stamp from Gus Van Sant, is filmed on location in Chicago and squats down immediately into the ugly internal machinations of politics. It's a little like The West Wing in a bloody street brawl, with a lot more swearing and nudity and minus the adoration for what politics can be at its aspirational best.  Screw that, Boss says. Politics as a triumphant idea might have been a great forum for Aaron Sorkin to write soliloquies about tough choices and moral righteousness, but Boss strips it down to the ugly truth. Nobody is happy unless they win at all costs, ethics and morality take a beating when you're trying to please constituents and stay elected, and people who seek power and then use it like a sword aren't halo-wearing types.  – Tim Goodman

     

Salon.com

But even at its worst, “Boss” radiates intelligence and toughness, and an appreciation of politics as a nonstop performance in an unscripted drama. . . It’s sometimes opulent but never glamorous or reassuring. Every one of its characters, from leads to bit players, is living a compromised life, from the power broker Kane and his equally smooth and ruthless wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen of “Gladiator”), who dote on each other in public but haven’t shared the same bed in years, down to the Mexican immigrant workers at the airport who make union wages for doing nothing and amuse themselves by giving a dogged reporter, Sam Miller (Troy Garity), useful facts while urging him to eat a taco so spicy that it makes him ill. . . “Boss” has a knack for showing how people conform to social type while simultaneously revealing the thorny individual lurking inside the type. – Matt Zoller Seitz

     

Variety

It's all played solidly enough, though so many elements seem plucked from other fare -- including the investigative reporter (Troy Garity) on Kane's trail -- the show struggles to distinguish itself. And frankly, presenting a journalist in what appears to be a semi-heroic mode, even in support, feels oh-so-1970s. . . Although one hates to dissuade Starz from heading down this stately path after it looked as if every program might have "Spartacus" in the title, the bottom line is that "The Wire," "The West Wing" and even "Boardwalk Empire" have set the bar for this sort of material quite high. Moreover, there's almost no humor in the previewed episodes to balance the sense of a show taking itself a bit too seriously -- or to reflect the absurdity of indicted Illinois real-life pols, including ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. . . Grammer needn't prove his considerable chops run a lot deeper than "Frasier," and while he's easily the biggest name in the cast, it's generally a first-rate ensemble. – Brian Lowry

     

New York Times

“Boss,” a series on Starz about a crooked Chicago mayor, is almost good, [a] political thriller that romanticize malfeasance, imbuing corruption with a sinister melodrama that defies common sense and cheapens the thrill of bad behavior. . . The series premiere is beautifully but ponderously shot: Chicago as seen through the eyes of a stylish European auteur. The story has some finely drawn characters and lots of promising material: This is, after all, politics the Chicago way. But too often the plot veers off into overwrought tangents that clash with the bleak realism of the story. . . Some of the most exciting scenes in “Boss” are found in the most prosaic crises: a city council vote on trash disposal, a gubernatorial campaign bus tour. . .There are movies and TV shows about politics that tempt viewers to fast forward through the details of governing to get to the juicy parts. “Boss” is the opposite, a smart look at political power brokers that gets silly on the subjects of sex and violence. – Alessandra Stanley


     


The Season: 6

A Perfect Storm of potential and likely disasters is set in motion across the opening episodes: Chicago Mayor Tom Kane’s degenerative neurological diagnosis and ugly prognosis until the inevitable fatal day; the upcoming gubernatorial primary in which he plots to sabotage the sitting governor’s bid for re-election with an upandcoming Bobby Kennedy type with a penchant for risky sex; the mayor’s privately estranged wife who plays the part of Mrs Mayor in public and will do anything to protect her share of influence - after all, she has the mayor in her genes; Mr and Mrs Mayor’s estranged and wayward daughter: a recovering drug addict with strong ties to the church and its free clinic where she works; a crusading investigative reporter who smells a rat lurking in the mayor’s pushing through legislation that favors construction over a cemetery that covers Native American relics and a source of contaminated ground water.


     

 

It’s all a bit much, I thought. The opening scene so flagrantly spawned from Breaking Bad; the relentless nudity; the sudden flashes of grisly violence.  I assume STARZ felt these were needed to hook its audience because it lets up after the third hour.  For all its toughness and the excellence of its cast, especially Kelsey Grammer, I couldn’t help but feel manipulated.  By contrast, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men and The Wire didn’t find such shenanigans necessary. Those shows had enough confidence in the material that the sheer power of their writing and unique existence was enough to draw us in – and keep us involved.

 

While we’ve seen this sort of layered plots and ethical dilemmas before, I still responded to them once the gratuitous stuff lightened up. One of the best examples plays out in Episode Five where the media control required by the mayor’s office’s to manage the toxic ground water debacle of Episode five is a masterstroke of political engineering and film editing.  And, as good as that episode is, the penultimate one the leads up to the final hours of the election, is even better - one of the best written and edited hours of its kind.


     

 

Alas, the editing, or perhaps I should say, the continuity suffers a mishap in Episode 4 where Kane plays back a tape made from a camera hidden in his office so that he can track his slips of consciousness.  When the playback arrives at the critical moment, what we hear is different from what was actually said, leading us down a blind alley of suspicion that someone altered his tapes to gaslight him.

 

Grammer is really terrific, no more so than when he is silent and his eyes let us see his pain and his need to retain some artifice of control in the face of his all too self-aware neurological failings.  But so, too, is his supporting cast – Hannah Ware as his daughter, the one unconvincing exception that struck me as foisted on me to secure a specific market share - as is her boyfriend, played by R&B artist, Rotimi, but he fits his part like the proverbial glove.  It doesn’t help that some of Hannah’s lines are achingly clichéd, as when she denies her father in church the first time.  Thankfully, her character is able to find its focus by mid-season.  Connie Nielsen has her work cut out for her as Mrs Mayor, and she rises to challenge with ease.  Especially touching is her revealing scene with her disabled father – the image of which is not lost on Kane when he visits the former mayor, and his father-in-law almost daily.


     

 

Rounding out the main characters are Kane’s two aides-de-camp, played by Kathleen Robertson and Martin Donovan, always in tune with their boss’ needs, competent enough to run the town on their own it would seem; Francis Guinan as the governor in campaign mode – hard to believe he actually IS the governor, so desperate is he; and Troy Garity as Woodward & Bernstein rolled into one journalist with the long view and a tone of insubordination that should have got him fired several times over – but maybe it’s smarter to keep him close so that certain people can keep an eye on him.


     

 

But even as all the twists and turns and intrigues stretch believability (we can excuse the operatic quality of the series as artistic license), nothing prepares us for the virus that invades Safinia’s creation from the get-go: a character who, in his own way, is as devastating to the series as the protein that is slowly destroying its main protagonist.  A character straight out of the Bourne franchise, terrorizing, kidnapping, beating and killing those who might threaten the mayor’s security - all apparently with the support and direction of the mayor’s office, yet somehow expecting his actions to be invisible to scrutiny. A character whose actions are so, willful, so out of place, so destructive to the show’s integrity, he may well have been planted by a one of the mayor’s political rivals or, just as likely, a competing television network. Hell, the garbage collector could trace his trail straight back to the mayor with one cerebral hemisphere anesthetized and the other high on meth.  For all Safinia’s clever layering of plot and careful development of characters in the mayor’s office as smart as any in Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing he throws it all away for the sake of a few cheap thrills.


     

 

Presentation

One nagging concern that gets to me more than most others I think is the extent to which the presentation affects my experience of the movie.  Such is the case in the theater when the picture is not in sharp focus or the soundtrack is played too loud. And this is true of Blu-ray even more than the original airing, perhaps because of the permanence of the thing – I know, without thinking about it, that the picture will look and sound the same the next time I see it.  Once my projector is calibrated and my sound levels adjusted for the material, my eye and ear are instantly and irrevocably glued to the perceptual experience.  And in both areas I had (and probably will continue to have) problems that got in the way.


     

 

Image: 8/8

Lionsgate’s transfer itself looks satisfactory to my eye.  I suspect it realizes the intentions of the various directors and producers, especially the DP, Kasper Tuxen, who joins series creator Farhad Safinia on the first episode audio commentary to talk about, among other things, the look of the show.  They sound happy with their work and the result.  There are a number of techniques that lend a visual signature to the series: handheld camera work, not generally taken to vertiginous excess; a lightly desaturated image, slightly softened (curiously on the fist disc but not the second); natural lighting; and very often a narrow depth of field, no doubt because of the reliance on fast, wide aperture lenses. For no reason I could fathom, color revives for a few minutes in the final episode.  Most odd.


     

 

So here’s the problem: Handheld photography plus a narrow depth of field – in close-up, a mere inch or so – will necessarily result in areas of the frame being out of focus, which, if you had planned and stabilized the shot, would not have been out of focus.  I believe that the filmmakers do not take into account the natural tendency of the eye/brain system to follow the point of focus, and when it wanders aimlessness from one point to another – on an actor’s face, for example - it becomes very wearing.  It is my opinion that many of these out of focus moments are undesirable side-effects of the chosen working parameters and a certain amount of just plain carelessness.  There are shots where nothing of interest in is focus; and many others where there is simply not enough DOF to make dramatic sense of what is going on.


     
 

 

The close-ups, macro and otherwise, are the biggest liabilities here.  Actors can remain still for just so long while speaking before it becomes noticeable that they are not moving, which no director would want excepting extraordinary circumstances.  The editor gets around this by frequent cutting to give the appearance of movement where there is none.  But in actual practice, actors will move when speaking, if only slightly.  The camera can lock on to a specific point but once that point moves a few millimeters, the shot is compromised because our eye is forced to look here or there for no reason.  Tuxen seems to feel he has raised the technique to an art form.


     

 

Audio: 6

Even though there must have been considerable effort to sort out the effects and music tracks and mix everything just so, the dialogue leaps out of the mix out of balance and in odd timbres.  There is a deliberate but inconsistent enhancement of voices, especially Grammer’s, throughout the first two episodes and occasionally afterward.  Every once in a while we can hear the engineer fiddling with the adjustment and blowing it completely.  Case in point: the mayor’s telephone conversation in Episode 5 starting at 42:32 “How’re you holding up?” 

 

Such deliberate enhancement starts right out of the gate in the opening episode. Our initial impression is of the care taken to capture the ambience of the warehouse space, but we can’t help but notice that a cavernous Grammer continues on through the hour pretty much regardless of location, with minor adjustments to acknowledge the space. Ah! we say, this is supposed to be the voice of God, or that other guy - at any rate, a force to reckon with.  (There was more than a touch of this effect for Burt Reynolds’ character in Deliverance in the original theatrical showing, but much less on video for some reason.)  The enhancement more or less disappears by the third episode, only to return in fits and starts throughout the season.  In short, there is an aural disconnect between actor and voice that suggest looping, but I don’t see how that could be.  Imagine going to all that trouble to create a 7.1 mix, and getting the dialogue wrong!


     

 

Music: 9

The last place I might expect to find Satie’s delicate Gnossiennes for piano would have been for a TV political thriller such as Boss, but I am happy to report that it works very well – not only as contrast to all the grit, but to suggest depth behind apparent normal activity.  Otherwise the score, save the Satie, is remarkable for its very unremarkableness, yet it still finds its way into the 7.1 mix in brief flourishes of mood and rhythm.  Robert Plant’s rendition of “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” makes for an appropriate, if Wired, credit music cue.  And a 20-minute modern rendering of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (the first movement, Kelsey, not the second) works surprisingly well as the series winds to its close.


     

 

Extras: 4

I am partial to audio commentaries.  I like that I can listen without having to waste precious projector bulb, or watch on my computer after ripping the video contents (for you Mac users out there, try Pavtube.)  And I like that the two commentaries for this season are at the beginning and the end (the opening remarks at the start of the later commentary are nothing short of insulting to our intelligence, however.)  And I liked that there are only two voices – easier to follow, less likely to engage in silly anecdotal bits of the truly trivial.  Less Likely.

 

DP Kasper Tuxen briefly talks about his use of “macro”photography wherein he means to convey the inner process of the subject.  (I felt the technique was overused and too often was not clearly distinguished from ordinary close-ups.) He and series creator Farhad Safinia discuss locations, editing and lighting a great deal and how the mix of shots during several sequences of dialogue intends to create the kind of tension we find in action flic car chases. Safinia has a pleasant conversational voice, with a lovely English accent, but he is entirely too complementary of his colleagues and uncritical of the final product.  He comments on the obvious repeatedly and gets into the gritty only occasionally. Tuxen is more available to detail and motive but doesn’t speak up as much. There’s an uncomfortable moment toward the end of the commentary where Safinia, who often sounds like a kid in a candy shop, interrupts Tuxen and inadvertently dumbs down the discussion of depth of field and focus, in fact, misses where Tuxen was going entirely.  I got a kick out of Safinia’s general unwillingness to be assertive.  At one point he prefaces an observation: “We sort of gather a little bit perhaps. . .”  (Smile.)


     


In the 16-minute interview “The Mayor & His Maker” with Farhad Safinia & Kelsey Grammer, series creator and star discuss in a little more depth than the commentaries several key aspects to their drama, among them: how central speeches throughout the season, by one character or another (and not all, by any means, to a public audience) and how helpful it is in those moments to avoid cutting; and how the series is derived from King Lear.  I liked that Safinia confirmed what seemed clear enough to me but, apparently, not so to many who questioned him about later, that the series is not meant to comment on current events (even if it boldly rips a couple of threads form the headlines as it were.)  I think it’s safe to watch this feature before you delve into the series or after the first episode, but otherwise I suggest you not go there until the end of the season.

 

This is as good a place as any to note that LionsGate provides no mechanism for you to resume watching where you left off, but at least the introductory promos can be manually skipped.  One thing in LionsGate’s favor (that for reasons passing understanding many studios do not provide) is a chapter stop right after the “previously on” opener for each episode.


     

 

Recommendation: 7

So there it is.  Having been renewed for a second season, Boss is shaping up to be a signature series for STARZ.  Kelsey Grammer and his cast are superb.  Chicago is visually fascinating.  Plots twists keep us on the edge of our seats, or at least in the popcorn, though one of those intrigues was so frustrating I threw mine at the screen.  I have my own problems with both the audio and the video, neither of which is likely the fault of LionsGate.  Fans should be happy. Worth a looksee if you are among the unacquainted.

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

July 17, 2012



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