It is Frasier Week at IndieWire. Grab some mixed salad and scrambled eggs, make yourself comfortable in your coziest armchair and join us. Listened.
Nothing against Seattle’s most famous fictional therapist, but Frasier Crane isn’t Kelsey Grammer’s best TV role. That title belongs to Tom Kane, the scariest (and occasionally campiest) mayor of Chicago on premium cable: the menacing title character in Starz’s upcoming political drama “Boss.”
“I knew Kelsey’s work through ‘Cheers’ and ‘Frasier,’ but he played a completely different character here,” said Gus Van Sant, who directed the first episode and recalled working with Grammer in a recent phone interview with IndieWire .
“He had played so many different roles on stage in his career that it wasn’t for him had not “I’ve played it before,” said the Oscar-nominated director. “But it wasn’t nearly as light-hearted and humorous as his other TV shows. It was something new for him; However, I had done this before when Robin Williams was working on Good Will Hunting – directing someone known for his humor in something more serious.”
Creator Farhad Safinia’s almost Shakespearean character study was somewhere between “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing,” running for two shortened seasons from 2011 to 2012 before being canceled due to an unfortunate cliffhanger. The minor sensation chronicled the precipitous neurological decline of Grammer’s corrupt politician, who is diagnosed with Lewy body dementia at the start of the series and decides to hide his illness in a desperate attempt to stay in power.
“I have strong memories of the first take where Kelsey spoke directly to the camera, monologued and explained his weakness,” Van Sant said. In the opening scene, Kane, loosely modeled on real-life former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, receives news that he will go vegetative in a few years. It’s a single shot, anchored in Grammer’s commanding but quietly frightened look as Kane pushes his sensitive doctor into a succinct explanation.
“Because it was the first shot, everything was very tense,” said Van Sant, who grew up partly outside Chicago. “It was in a forgotten warehouse near the city and it was difficult because it had just settled into that moment. From then on, sailing was much smoother.”
Kane’s Big Lie sets off a Machiavellian chain reaction of degenerative hallucinations that has catastrophic consequences for the city. The tone of the series was equally frenetic. “Boss” could switch between comically melodramatic and genuinely creepy in a matter of seconds, with Grammer’s overwhelming presence counteracting the writers’ tendency to push the boundaries of reality too far, too quickly Away too often.
It was a show that featured one of America’s most popular sitcom actors delivering laugh-out-loud, ridiculous lines: “I’m the angel of fucking death!”– with astonishing straightforwardness and even worse behavior. In the first episode, Kane casually throws a pair of severed human ears into a garbage disposal because construction at O’Hare International Airport has been delayed. (Don’t ask how they got into his kitchen.) In another case, he takes a shit with the door open in front of an opponent as a startling and sharp power move.
Van Sant left the series after the first episode — “standard practice” for the time, the director recalls — but he remembers the “Boss” chapter he directed as a learning experience for him and Grammer. The actor took a keen interest in the series’ camerawork, which was certainly less prescriptive than the live studio audience format of “Frasier,” and Van Sant enjoyed his first opportunity to explore serialized storytelling. (The filmmaker is expected to return to the big screen soon with a Truman Capote-centric story for FX’s “Feud.”)
“This was really my first television experience, so I was excited to be a part of it,” Van Sant said, referencing the role he played in shaping the look and feel of the show as it existed throughout all 18 episodes. “And I thought the second season was just as good, if not better, than the first.”
The local government crime drama was positioned as serious prestige television at a time when Starz desperately needed stars – and its ratings weren’t all bad. Connie Nielsen portrayed the mayor’s wife, Meredith, in a cast full of newcomers (Jonathan Groff!) and TV veterans (Martin Donovan!) who were strong supporting players even in Grammer’s huge shadow. But the Lionsgate-owned network still abruptly canceled the show before the third season: a decision that Van Sant, who has lost contact with Safinia and Grammer, can’t speak to but says may have had something to do with the intensity of the show series has to do. (Notably, Safinia stepped down as showrunner and was replaced by Dee Johnson in Season 2. IndieWire was unable to reach the creator of “Boss” for comment.)
“It could have something to do with Kelsey herself; He maybe thought that was enough,” Van Sant said. “I’m not entirely sure who made the decision.”
Rumors of a feature-length film to conclude existing “Boss” storylines (about deadline) fizzled out quickly and there was no talk of a revival for years; Van Sant said this article was the first time he had been asked about “Boss” in a while. Nevertheless, Grammer, who helped develop, sell and produce the series, received his only Golden Globe as a dramatic actor for his role as Tom Kane. The actor once described the role as the one he enjoyed the most: “a long time“And during his acceptance speech for best dramatic actor, he thanked Starz for ordering eight episodes instead of a pilot — a surprisingly prescient foreshadowing for the streaming wars. This industry-shaking sensation led Kevin Spacey to join Netflix’s House of Cards a year after Boss was canceled.
Van Sant is nothing more than a fan of Grammer these days and can’t say whether the actor would ever return to play Kane in the same spirit that founded his “Frasier” remake. But it hardly matters; The “My Private Idaho” filmmaker isn’t eager to get back into government dramas anytime soon. During the pandemic, Van Sant was noodling with one Concept about a gay US president, focusing on interpersonal relationships in the White House. However, he has since given up on the idea and concluded that most political issues in the current situation “pale in comparison to the actual antics.” Tell these ears?
“Boss” is available to stream on Hulu and Prime Video with Starz.