Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Starz Cable series more exciting than real Chicago Politics

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New Starz Cable series more exciting than real Chicago Politics
By Ray Hanania

Kelsey Grammer has become the mayor that chicago never had in the new Starz cable TV series “Boss”. Grammer, who plays a fictional Chicago mayor, is articulate, tough and corrupt with a style Chicago politicians have long forgotten and an excitement the city has long lost.

It’s clear from the start that this series is definitely not about our "beloved" former Mayor Richard M. Daley or about his father, the real Boss, Richard J. Daley.

They both shared as much a lifelong difficulty with the English language as they did a confrontational relationship with the Chicago media. The battle with English is over in this series.

Fortunately for viewers, I guess, Mayor Tom Kane is no Mayor Daley. The series is set in the today, not the past. It's not an historical look back at Chicago politics at all, but rather a look at what it could have been or might become. Thank God for that. Chicago City Hall during Daley’s 22 year reign was
far from exciting. It was bland, lame and the corruption made headline sbut not much excitement.

Chicago's rough and tumble politics came before his father and continued through the fall and resurrection of the Chicago Machine under Mayors Michael A. Bilandic, Jane M. Byrne, and Harold Washington, and then began its collapse under the weight of mediocrity under the kindly Eugene Sawyer before being managed under Daley.

The Starz series Boss is clearly about a future mayor, maybe even a version of Chicago’s new Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Emanuel is not just “new,” he is far different from any mayor we have ever had.)

There is enough reality in the show with Mayor Kane and Gov McCall Cullen swearing up a storm of F-words. Gov Cullen reminds me of the former and very tough Illinois Governor Jim Thompson. We haven't had a talented governor with a real political personality in years. But cussing up a storm, that's something that Emanuel can do but that Daley rarely did, being the Catholic alter boy he pretended to be. Mild Gov. Pat Quinn would probably blush watching the show. Though I am sure they all get mad each in their own way.

Thank goodness for viewers that the only tie to reality in this tv series is the setting, the rough and tough political playground of real Chicago. In fact, the show is compelling fiction at its best probably adopting from some of the political scandals that have tried hard but failed to rock Chicago but incorporating much of the city’s below radar racial strife, ethnic politics and its inherent greed.

Having covered Chicago City Hall and every mayor from Daley the Boss to Daley the loss, I could see the foundation of Chicago’s politics in the story. And that’s all that viewers really need.

Chicago is all there. But this isn't about a Chicago mayor past, but rather about a Chicago that can be. One giveaway is that the governor in his limo is using an iPad – I was the first to bring a computer to Chicago City Hall in 1979 in the windy Byrne administration. She created stories so fast you couldn’t keep up without one. I’m using an iPad to write this column. But there is a great scene where the governor's aide shows him a video of the mayor meeting with his challenger and then slams the iPad against the limo hurling it into a field in an act of violence most iPad users have considered often.

The Starz series Boss gives viewers a realistic basic primer on Chicago politics and government that Chicagoans will recognize and that non-Chicagoans will certainly enjoy. It’s presented in a way that has been lost under the former Mayor Daley. Too often, the reality of Chicago politics was never as good as it was presented by the newspaper scribes who especially today rely more on imagination and entertainment than hard work or facts.

For some reason, this series snubs the Chicago Tribune. When Mayor Kane recruits someone to run against Governor Cullen, the mayor tells the suicide candidate he can easily get support from “The Sentinel and the Sun-Times.” That’s a script writer’s stumble. Chicagoans love and know their media. The Sun-Times, where I worked, isn't half the newspaper it used to be with a meager circulation of only 200,000 and nothing near what the Chicago Tribune is, a powerhouse news generator with a huge circulation and media network.

Viewers will catch that right away and see it as evidence of the show’s lack of knowledge about Chicago.

But I love this series already. As a former City Hall reporter and columnist, this is exactly the kind of mayor Chicago has always wanted. Tough. Articulate. Clever. Conniving. This boss literally throws an Hispanic alderman out of his office in a torrent of F-words by his ear.

The series mayor is also one of the most eloquent speakers ever to hit Chicago politics, something that might take a while for Chicagoland viewers to get accustomed. Reporters wished to have had someone to quote as articulately and as meaningful as Mayor Kane who is better than President Barack Obama, the Great Talker.”

There is also a lot of Tom Cruise Mission Impossible intrigue in the series. The mayor and his wife are at odds, secretly separated living in a home that had to have been found in a north suburban neighborhood.

There's a lot of raw sex with the staff, more like a Chicago politics meets the Sopranos. Wait, Chicago politics made the mafia.

Maybe Kelsey Grammer is giving Chicagoans a peek at what our new Mayor Rahm Emanuel is. Maybe not. Regardless of the faux pas of political reality, this promises to be a phenomenal series.

You can watch a sneak peek on Starz cable now, but it premieres Friday nights at 9 pm.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist. He can be reached at

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