The first season of Boss is an award-winning political drama, starring Kelsey Grammer as Chicago’s ruthless Mayor Tom Kane. Running Chicago with an iron fist, Kane is hiding a secret from everyone in his life. He’s dying from a rare neurodegenerative disorder like Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease, that is impairing his ability to retain control of the only thing he cares about at this point in his life, political power. Added to this mix are the scheming politicians and businessmen that surround him, always looking out for themselves.
Important players in the story are the people all closest to Kane, from his scheming wife played brilliantly by Connie Nielsen, to a select group of political operatives that handle the dirty business of politics for him. Shed any preconceived notions one may have about Kelsey Grammer from his days as a popular sitcom actor, here he gives a nuanced portrayal of an aging politician desperate to do anything to keep control. The stellar cast play their parts superbly and even the smaller roles are all filled with wonderful performances.
Set against the dirty world of politics in Chicago, the main thrust of the story revolves around a rising new political star, a young candidate named Ben Sajac, jockeying to be the next Governor of Illinois. Boss wouldn’t be on a premium cable channel if not for the healthy doses of sex, drugs and violence thrown into the story. But, none of it feels gratuitous, as they all play a key role in the final plot as the tension builds to election day.
Boss transcends its limitations as a political drama because of the richness of the world it creates. Each script is carefully written to build layer upon layer as the story progresses. Nothing happens without reason and no storyline is left dangling. The first season tells a complete story that beautifully comes together in the end, producing a satisfying solution to all the disparate story-lines and tying them together. This is television of the highest order and crafted to appeal to more than just political junkies. Think the Sopranos, with Kane at the head of the political machine in Chicago instead of the Mafia. Of course the joke would be there is little difference anyway. As the show says, corruption in Chicago is not news but a history lesson.
Videophiles, take note. Lionsgate has finally delivered video nirvana in an exquisite presentation that surpasses practically everything else on Blu-ray. As a subdued drama, Boss doesn’t quite display the depth and dimensionality of something such as Avatar, but does everything else so well for picture quality you won’t mind. The eight episodes are divided evenly over 2 BD-50s, in a competent AVC video encode that easily handles the ultra-clean digital video. Video bitrates are a little below what I’ve come to demand at around 20 Mbps, but it’s hard to quibble when there are no compression artifacts. The show is framed in its native aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with gorgeous cinematography.
The secret to the stunning picture quality is that Boss was carefully shot under controlled conditions using the new Arri Alexa digital camera. This is the first high-definition video I’ve seen that surpasses 35mm film in resolution and clarity, with none of the negatives typically associated with digital video. There is not an ounce of filtering or ringing to the transfer, producing more visible resolution than I thought possible on the Blu-ray format. The level of fine detail is mesmerizing, as every facial detail is crystal-clear. Blemishes, make-up, surgical scars- everything is on display. It’s a perfect transfer without a single flaw.
Beyond the resolution, black levels are deep while the contrast is perfect. It’s one of the few live-action dramas that can begin to compete with the better animated movies on BD in these categories. Some say the best high-definition video produces a “window” effect, simulating reality so well it looks like you are watching something outside your window. There is no better example of this phenomenon than this season of Boss. Produced at the highest standards of Hollywood, you’ll be vicariously immersed in the city of Chicago as the video looks so real. It is immaculate and as pristine as anything I have ever seen from any format.
A conscious decision to tone the colors down draws some of the warmth out of the overall color palette. The palette favors cooler shades of blue and pale flesh-tones, though on a calibrated display will only be particularly noticeable in the final episode where a key scene purposely changes the color timing for dramatic effect.
Boss has a subtle and engaging 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. As a political drama with few moments for the typical boisterous audio elements, the sound mix gets clever by using the surround channels for a number of supporting ambiance sounds. On top of that is moderate usage of the LFE channel, producing tight bass that is not explosive but can definitely be heard in the mix. It’s a well-mixed soundtrack that shows a lot of care in directional placement and has a number of unique approaches to environmental sounds.
As a dialog-driven affair, the voices are clear and superbly mixed into the background music. The dialog is always intelligible above the active parts of the musical score and sound effects. Sound design really shines in crowd scenes as politicians give a speech or the exterior scenes set in the busy streets of Chicago. It is a full season of episodes, so a few moments do slip from the usual excellent quality.
The special features consist of two audio commentaries and a 16-minute featurette in high-definition. The audio commentaries highlight the show’s creator and main writer, Farhad Safinia, with some of the production people as they delve into the more technical aspects of the show. They are fairly engaging for the hardcore fans and give a decent amount of insight into the construction of Boss. Mentioned are a far-ranging purview of topics, from story to cinematography and everything in-between.
The featurette is a brief piece featuring a discussion between star Kelsey Grammer and the creator, Farhad Safinia. It’s largely a fluff piece with a lot of filler, though a few interesting things about the show’s creation are included.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Screen shots are sourced from the first episode.