Greg Dixon 's Opinion

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

TV Eye: Devil of a good show

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Kelsey Grammer's performance as a ruthless mayor earned him an Emmy. Photo / AP
Kelsey Grammer's performance as a ruthless mayor earned him an Emmy. Photo / AP

What if the devil had a terrible, terrible disease?

What would he say? What would he do? Who would he tell?

Perhaps, like the malevolent Tom Kane in Soho's new drama Boss (Wednesdays, 9.30pm), he'd say nothing and do nothing, save carry on. And, by God, it seems Kane does nothing but the devil's work.

The long-time mayor of the great city of Chicago, he is a political demon at the peak of his powers, the wicked king of all he surveys. He has his council by the balls. He has a powerful political organisation at his bidding. And he seems certain to control the state by unseating - by proxy - the state of Illinois' incumbent governor and supplanting him with a young man who is not unlike himself.

But as powerful as Kane is, he cannot control all. There is the relationship with his wife, Meredith, which is buried under a thick layer of permafrost. There is an ex-junkie daughter Emma suffering her own kind of hell, sent to purgatory by her parents to prevent damage to their political careers.

And then, as the series opens, he receives a death sentence: he has a rare degenerative neurological disease which will destroy his mind and then his body within five years.

If I sound like I'm frothing a little about how good this is, it's only because, just two episodes in to this eight part series, Boss is already shaping up as better than every other drama now on TV, combined.

The script, by a guy I've never heard of, Farhad Safinia, is terrific. But much of the appeal is down to an astonishing performance by Kelsey Grammer, an actor most will associate with the sitcom Frasier. As Kane, Grammer exudes a gravitas and power that makes every scene he's in fizz with menace. Grammer's recent Emmy win for the role seems, in retrospect, utterly inevitable.

Comparisons can be made of course; there's nothing new in a drama built around a powerful politician - indeed Soho is currently re-screening the once-lauded The West Wing. It seems like Never Never Land compared to Kane's netherworld.

Boardwalk Empire, HBO's hottest property, which recently ended its second season on Soho, is another natural comparison. It too has a powerful, ruthless manipulator, beset and besieged. But it, too, pales. In Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is still, despite a much better second series, a work in progress. Grammer's Kane has been born fully formed.

Boss is already looking like a drama of deep sedimentary layers, and something approaching a sense of classical tragedy. No better scene suggested this than the opening of the first episode, in which Kane receives his diagnosis. Standing in a deserted slaughterhouse, a place where 30,000 labourers once killed thousands of pigs and cattle a day, he declares to his doctor, but mostly to himself: "Life, for all its cares and terrors, is no such great thing after all - labourer or hog."

It is a much hackneyed line to suggest something is Shakespearean, but in this case I'll risk it.

Rather less Shakespearean, rather more neo-classical Western is Hell on Wheels (Sundays, 8.30pm, Soho). Set in 1865 against the backdrop of a post-Civil War America and the building of its transcontinental railway, Hell on Wheels is something like Gladiator in cowboy boots, with a man (ex-Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon) seeking revenge for the brutal murder of his wife.

Three episodes in, it's fair to say it's no Deadwood. More a working out of current American obsessions - race and capitalist greed - with preposterous plot twists. It may or may not find its feet..

In the meantime, for real gothic American hell, see the Boss.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

It has been said the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are a rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Despite having none of these things, Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and North & South and Metro magazines. Although it has been rumoured that he embarked on his journalism career as the result of a lost bet, the truth is that although he was obsessed by the boy reporter Tintin as a child, he originally intended to be an accountant. Instead, after a long but at times spectacularly bad stint at university involving two different institutions, a year as a studio radio programme director and a still uncompleted degree, he fell into journalism, a decision his mother has only recently come to terms with. A graduate of the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) journalism school, he was hired by the Herald on graduation in 1992 and spent the next eight years demonstrating little talent for daily news, some for television reviewing and a passable aptitude for long-form feature writing. Before returning to the Herald in 2008 to take up his present role, he spent three years as a freelance, three as a senior feature writer at Metro and one as a staff writer at North & South. As deputy editor of Canvas, his main responsibility is applauding the decisions of the editor, Michele Crawshaw. However he prefers to spend his time interviewing interesting people -- a career highlight was a confusing 15-minute phone interview with a stoned Anna Nicole Smith -- and pretending to understand what they're going on about. He has won awards for his writing and editing, but would have preferred a pay rise.

Read more by Greg Dixon

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