The United States of America is a great country: the Declaration of Independence, the first man on the moon, a black president, and that whole kicking Hitler’s ass thing are good enough reasons to get misty-eyed when looking across the pond. However, for my generation (and especially for my column) it’s American pop culture that shapes our perception of the Land of Liberty. For example, when I think of Seattle, it’s Kurt Cobain and grunge that comes to my mind. Woody Allen and Paul Auster and the Wu Tang Clan showed me New York. Los Angeles is the city of Michael Mann. DJ Screw and OG Ron C tell me about Texas. Detroit, the Motor City, was once all about Underground Resistance and techno until Eminem showed up. Finally, Chicago’s been the city of organized crime ever since I saw Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime epic The Untouchables.
Robert De Niro delivered a brilliant performance as legendary gang leader Al Capone, but it was Sean Connery’s wholehearted and honorable officer Jimmy Malone that snatched the Oscar for Best Supporting Role. Looking back, it’s pretty much the same role Gary Oldman played in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy – maybe a hint of what’s to come for the 2013 Oscars? Capone, as his name already indicates, was the son of Italian immigrants, originally born in Brooklyn, NY. He moved to Chicago in his early twenties chasing business opportunities. During Prohibition this mostly meant smuggling alcohol from Canada into the States, but also involved other flourishing rackets like prostitution and bribery. At the age of 26, Capone was already a very powerful man and controlled most of the Chicago underworld. The sort of bloody stories that have come out of his rise to power have fascinated the public for decades – but Capone has another side too, which does more to solidify his mythical status than the countless crimes he committed: ol’ Scarface donated large amounts of his money to various charities, becoming a man who was loved by some as much as he was feared by others. And, of course, his imprisonment in the then-newly built maximum security facility Alcatraz (a part of American pop culture in its own right) did the rest to ensure his place in history.
After The Untouchables, it was 24 years before another program would focus on Chicago crime. Without any information on casting, and with just a single screen shot preceding it in 2011, US premium cable station Starz ordered eight episodes of Boss on the strength of the script. Iranian-American writer Rarhard Safina weaved a tale of power and crime in the 21st century, seemingly much smoother than in the 1920s, but upon closer inspection, disarmingly similar. The main character of the show is Tom Kane, the mayor of Chicago and chief string-puller of the city, exerting influence on everything from labor unions to transport, waste disposal to education. However, the mayor is also suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder, which makes it hard to keep his position of power, and on top of it all, there’s an election looming. Aside from the story, one of the great assets of the show is Kelsey Grammer who embodies this character on the edge of insanity in a brilliant performance, for which he was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actor.
After eight episodes, Tom Kane managed to avoid having to resign from office, but to find out at what cost, you’ll have to watch the first season yourself. Also, there’s good news: even though the ratings have hardly been spectacular, Boss has been renewed. Season 2 starts – yeah – this week.
Published August 13, 2012.