In a TV role as a political boss, Kelsey Grammer offers a few lessons for poker players.
Frasier is back but what of Kane?
Arguably the best TV sitcom of all time, Frasier ran for 11 seasons between 1993 and 2004. The series was created as a spin-off of the Boston-based sitcom Cheers, continuing the story of the psychiatrist character Frasier Crane who returns to his hometown of Seattle to host a radio show.
the revival spin-off is scheduled to premiere on Paramount+ next month
Frasier won a record 37 Primetime Emmy Awards and fans have long wished to see the show make a return to TV screens. Well, they will wait no longer. The creators finally said “I'm listening” (groan) and the revival spin-off is scheduled to premiere on Paramount+ next month. That's good news for Kelsey Grammer fans, of which I am one, although I will admit that there is another show of his that I would prefer to see make a comeback.
In 2011, Grammer was outstanding as Mayor of Chicago Tom Kane in Farhad Safinia's extraordinary political TV drama Boss. The second season was as good as the first, but the show was inexplicably a ratings flop, possibly due to direct competition with House of Cards. After 18 exceptional episodes, the Starz Network pulled the plug leaving the audience in limbo with no proper resolution to the gripping storyline.
Boss follows the Machiavellian machinations of a monstrous political powerhouse as he struggles with the symptoms of a degenerative neurological disorder and the knowledge of his impending demise. Unlike Walter White in Breaking Bad, Tom Kane is not spurred into action by his diagnosis. He is already a political behemoth. Rather, he is a modern-day King Lear, a man already in power who becomes even more dangerous behind the wheel when his own survival is brought sharply into focus.
exploiting his edge with a ruthless disregard for the cost to others
I re-watched Boss recently and I couldn't help but think of the ways that poker and politics are similar. Tom Kane is a manipulator, a bluffer, a trapper. He is constantly performing, playing different roles with different people, contriving situations where he has the upper hand, and exploiting his edge with a ruthless disregard for the cost to others. He is, in many ways, the consummate poker player.
Grammer is persuasive in the role of an old-school bully, bombastically delivering his lines, a virtuoso of speech play. Like the top poker players, his character finds a way to squeeze value out of every situation. He identifies his opponent's weak points and he exploits their vulnerabilities with ruthless expediency.
It could be said that in the show, Tom Kane takes a bad beat of sorts, one which threatens to throw his life off kilter. He learns that he will gradually lose control of his most basic physical and mental faculties, eventually succumbing to dementia. The frustration that this causes manifests itself, as with some poker players, in self-pity, then anger, and then by him lashing out at others. His judgment is affected and he begins to unbalance, to diverge from game theory. In other words, he tilts.
It is fair to say though that Tom Kane is a creative man when backed into a corner, even if it is a corner of his own making. He might spew off a few chips but he knows how to win them back and more. In fact, he often seizes upon these moments for their advertising value, continuing to appear weak while ultimately setting the trap for his political rivals. “Every person who has plotted against me will feel the force of my wrath,” says Kane. “No one will be left unscathed.”
they display a merciless pragmatism, understanding and embracing variance for what it is
As a poker player, it is your job to con and coerce, to beguile and ensnare. Poker is Realpolitik in its most simplistic form and those who succeed either consciously or unconsciously understand this. Tom Kane understands the game that he is playing better than anyone, a beast in every sense of the word. Similarly, poker's bosses are realists who accept the rules of engagement and understand that they are waged in a battle of competitive self-interest. Above all perhaps, they display a merciless pragmatism, understanding and embracing variance for what it is – a blurring force that obscures the fundamental truth that the better player will ultimately triumph.
In the words of Tom Kane: “The illusion of change is a good thing. It gives the people a jolt of hope, makes people believe in the possibility of things… What we need is the illusion of change on the surface, continuity underneath.”
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