Kelsey Grammer's 'Boss' a terrific bummer

Actor Kelsey Grammer attends the after party for

Actor Kelsey Grammer attends the after party for the opening of "La Cage Aux Folles" on Broadway at Providence in Manhattan. (April 18, 2010) (Credit: Getty Images)

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THE SHOW "Boss" (Second-season premiere)

WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m. on Starz

CATCHING UP By the end of the first season, the walls of Chicago Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer) looked like they were about to come tumbling down. Some, in fact, already had.

His daughter, Emma (Hannah Ware), was in jail for drug dealing; his protege, Gov.-elect Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), had hatched an elaborate plot to take him down -- with support from his own wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen) and trusted adviser Kitty O'Neill (Kathleen Robertson). Crusading newspaper editor Sam Miller (Troy Garity) also was getting close to the truth about Chicago's crooked mayor. Finally, this: His brutal hatchet man, Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan), turned out to be the shadow figure behind a vast conspiracy to topple Kane. The "boss" had him liquidated. That solved most of his problems, or so he thinks.

WHAT FRIDAY'S EPISODE IS ABOUT The second season opens in the desert, with Kane staring off into the middle distance. Looking at ... what? Who knows? Possibly into his own blasted soul. He's forcibly relocated his neurologist out here, far away from his enemies back home who would like to know her secrets about his health. Here's the latest one: His disease has worsened (he has Lewy Body Dementia) and hallucinations should begin shortly. Bad timing.

He's getting ready to battle various ward bosses and the powerful Black Caucus over a plan to level a housing project -- and he's prepping a big victory speech for his latest triumph, the airport expansion gambit. At least he has an able new assistant to replace Ezra -- Ian Todd ("Glee's" Jonathan Groff).

MY SAY "Boss" is TV's best series that no one's watching. And I do mean no one, by TV standards -- the audience dwindled to well under half a million by the end of the first season. What's the problem? "Boss" is one long sustained note in a minor key. It is unleavened -- utterly -- by humor, and the value of humor in a drama can't be overstated. From "Dexter" to "Breaking Bad," the funny stuff lets viewers take a breath and regroup emotionally.

But not here. "Boss" wants to crush you under the sheer weight of Kane's brutality. It wants to jab your brain with the mendacity of the Chicago machine -- and how politics corrupts and corrupts absolutely. Not many viewers want to be crushed or have their brains jabbed. They just want to relax. No relaxing allowed with "Boss." Sorry about that, and sorry for this series, which remains smart, absorbing and particularly well done.

BOTTOM LINE Still good. Still heavy going.

GRADE A-

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