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'Boss?': Strange goings-on [ - ]
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Author: Rick Marin
Source: Washington Times, The
Date | Issue: 09/05/1989 | NA p.E1
Topic: Who's the Boss?
Submitted by: mich_l81

'Boss?': Strange goings-on

By Rick Marin

It was during a repeat viewing of Alyssa Milano's exercise video "Teen Steam" that I first confronted the question "Why the Boss?" Miss Milano, for those unfamiliar with her work, plays Tony Danza's teen-age daughter on ABC's unshakable hit "Who's the Boss?" At this juncture in her career - five years on a network series, her own workout tape - it is probably time to anoint Miss Milano the Valerie Bertinelli of her generation. The show, however, is by any reasonable standard unbearable.

Mr. Danza, plucked straight from the gym for his role as Tony the boxer on "Taxi," has turned from noble savage into village idiot: a stud emasculated and housekeeper to Judith Light's divorced single mom. With low wit, cheap sentiment and bizarre sexual chemistry "Boss?" attracts huge audiences every Tuesday night (on Channel 7 at 8 here). Something like 20 million people watch it every week, and untold millions more will watch it when it can rotate five years of reruns into syndication. (The show started in 1984.)

Scary. People wonder why Johnny can't read. A few more years of "Who's the Boss?" and Johnny won't be able to think either.

Not that there's anything wrong with mindless entertainment. What else was television created for? But "Boss?" isn't mindlessly ribald like "Night Court" or mindlessly zany like "Alf." Just mindless. And, if you watch it closely, very strange.

A street-bred New York widower moves to suburban Connecticut with his daughter and becomes . . . a housekeeper. Mr. Danza went to "Boss?" a year after "Taxi's" cancellation. He's still Tony, "Micelli" this time. He looks like the same brawny lug he always was. But he isn't. The apron he wears in this platonic "family" (rounded out by a son and mother attached to Miss Light's character) is more than figurative. Tony's employer, Angela Bower, head of her own ad agency, is richer, smarter and several rungs ahead of him on the evolutionary ladder. Their relationship is purely physical, and purely chaste.

Macho man Tony is reduced to playing houseboy, eunuch even, to his mistress's whims. He's schizophrenic: all strut and swagger one minute; mincing and whining the next. His intense, unrequited sexual desire for Angela is a running theme, maybe the fundamental one, of the show. This repression brings out a Freudian casebook of effeminate mannerisms: giggling, pouting, foot-stamping temper tantrums. All this from a man who looks like he could stop traffic with his fist.

When an ex-flame of Angela's shows up one day announcing that their quickie marriage in Las Vegas 20 years ago - one she thought had been annulled - is still valid, precocious young Jonathan Bower is confused. "Dad's in California, Brian says he's your husband, and Tony's like a father. This is the kind of Freudian situation that could harm a child's psyche." No kidding.

Tony, too, is deeply distressed: "Yuh live wid someone fuh five years, yuh think yuh know huh." Five years he's waited for you-know-what. No wonder he calls his van "girl."

As the two kids (Tony's and Angela's) sprout into pubescence, a creepy parallelism is developing in their relationship: outward antagonism masking - dare we think it? - repressed sexual desire.

The "offbeat" element in this otherwise "normal" domestic arrangement is Angela's mother, Mona, played by Katherine Helmond of "Soap" fame. Mona is vain, selfish, nosy - in short, the only likable character on the show. Her function is to loll idly on the periphery of the action, spitting insults and off-color commentary as an antidote to the insipid sap that glues the story lines together. (No episode of "Boss?" is complete without one of the principals earnestly corralling another with the words "Can we talk . . . alone?")

This fall ABC will introduce a spinoff from "Boss?" - more of an Alyssa Milano spinoff, actually - called "Living Dolls." It collects four of Samantha Micelli's teen-steamy friends together in a group house for models presided over by den mother Michael (Mama Walton) Learned. Miss Milano won't leave "Boss?," but there'll be plenty of what network programmers call "crossover."

And the show carries an unmistakable "Boss?" mark: Living in close quarters with these ravishing junior misses is one younger junior mister (David Moscow), a supplicant at the altar of their nubile sex appeal. He's a mascot, Tony in miniature. So close and yet so far from the big score.

"Who's the Boss?" The question, like the show, is all tease.