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Dead Tree Alert: Time of the Season

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For Labor Day weekend, this week’s TIME magazine includes our summer fall Arts preview. (Usual caveat: you need to subscribe to read the whole thing.) Because television must share space in it with the lesser arts, such as film, visual art and books, the TV section gets only a page in the magazine, and includes just a quick selection of some of the fall’s most high-profile debuts. (Sidebar: Is it just me, or does Jason O’Mara look like he’s dancing in that Terra Nova photo?)

With the exception of Showtime’s Homeland (my favorite new pilot of the fall), these aren’t critical endorsements—in some cases, as with Terra Nova, I still haven’t even seen a full pilot—but shows that are at least worth being curious about, for better or worse. There’s a lot I ended up leaving out, like daytime TV (here comes Anderson Cooper!) and other primetime gambles, like Kelsey Grammer’s return to series TV in Starz’s Boss, above.

So far I’ve seen Boss’ pilot, directed by Gus Van Sant, and I have my problems with it, which I’ll go into in more length later. But one thing that wasn’t an issue for me was Grammer in a dramatic role. (He plays Tom Kane, a corrupt Chicago mayor seeking to secure his legacy while hiding a diagnosis of debilitating illness.) It’s not that I doubted his acting chops.

But Grammer has a challenge in winning over audiences in a dramatic role that I think even someone like former costar Ted Danson doesn’t. Grammer played Frasier Crane for two decades; not only does an audience associate him with a specific comic role, but it’s a specific kind of comic role. Namely, Frasier was pompous and self-serious—though he was a comedy character, Frasier Crane believes that he is in a drama—and so I was worried that every time I saw Grammer in a dramatic scene, I would subconsciously feel set up for a punchline.

But so far, Grammer sells it. The pilot itself can be over-the-top in its darkness and brutality, to the point of almost seeming like a parody of cable antihero shows. (It also has political and personal intrigue that makes me want to stick with it for now.) Before the end of the first scene, however, which establishes the mayor’s will to power and intensity, I lost all thought of tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

At the very least, it should be a more memorable performance than Grammer as Hank (or his ex’s in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). Are you interested?