Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer) is the mayor of Chicago, and he didn’t get there by being particularly nice to either his colleagues, rivals or family. He’s also just been diagnosed with a degenerative condition which will see him lose his physical and mental faculties within the next 3 to 5 years.
You know from the very first scene, a long close up as Kane learns of his prognosis that this is going to be a show entirely built around this one central character and the inimitable Kelsey Grammer certainly delivers the kind of performance that makes you sit up and pay attention. But any show that’s built exclusively around one character lives and dies with that character. Tom Kane is not meant to be likeable, your initial sympathy for someone getting this diagnosis is soon overwhelmed by the fact that he’s a thoroughly nasty piece of work, cold and demanding of his colleagues, ruthless and violent to his opponents, and distant and selfish to his family.
It’s not necessary to like a central character, but you do have to want to spend time with him, and I unfortunately didn’t want to. I didn’t want to feel sorry for a sleazeball just because of his medical situation, but I also didn’t want to be cold to a man’s suffering. One thing that is missing from the episode as far as I noticed was any explanation for his motivation as mayor – does he behave the way he does because that’s the price he has to pay to deliver some other higher service, or is he that way just because he wants power? Without an understanding of his motivation it’s hard to judge the character and to know whether he’s redeemable or not.
There’s not much sympathy to be had through the rest of the characters either, nor is there much cheer. Everyone seems pretty ok with manipulation, threats, and outright violence. Throughout the numerous factions and characters I didn’t see a single person who could be considered pleasant, let alone innocent.
The show is very well produced – the writing is elegant, a combination of powerful speeches and quiet moments which give the actors a chance to deliver subtlety. The direction is also well put together, mostly handheld but with some nice little visual effects that keep things interesting. But for all that, I don’t have any desire at all to watch the next episode. I can appreciate that it may be an excellent show, but when I think about watching more it’s with a sense of weary duty rather than anticipation. I can be glad it exists, and can even recommend that others check it out, but I just don’t want to watch more.