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TV review: 'Boss' tightens grip on Chicago

The second season of the Starz political drama "Boss" opens with Chicago Mayor Tom Kane in the desert, staring off over the barren wasteland of scorched earth.

The scene serves as apt metaphor for the situation the boss finds himself in after the series' tumultuous first season: He stands alone as a man at war with his family, fellow politicians and the press, and even his own mind, which is losing its battle against the ravages of Lewy Body Dementia.

As the new season begins (8 p.m. Friday, Starz; 3.5 star out of 4), Kane (Kelsey Grammer) has all but abandoned his protege, gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), who with the help of Kane's own wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen), and adviser, Kitty O'Neil (Kathleen Robertson), tried to topple him. His daughter, Emma (Hannah Ware), is stewing in jail after Kane had her arrested, and her drug-dealing boyfriend, Darius (Rotimi), is seething because of it.

Kane is in the desert to see his doctor, Ella Harris (Karen Aldridge), whom he banished from Chicago to keep her from revealing his secret to crusading newspaper editor Sam Miller (Troy Garity). With his illness causing hallucinations, Kane asks her to return to Chicago, where he's preparing to do battle over his plan to destroy a housing project.

He's not sure he can trust his new assistant, Ian Todd (Jonathan Groff), or Mona Fredricks (Sanaa Latham), another alderman's chief of staff, who is rallying the powerful Black Caucus to vote against the mayor.

No, TV's best series that few are watching hasn't lightened up, and that's mostly a good thing. I wouldn't complain if the writers threw in a few funny moments between all the double dealing, philandering and terrifying visions.

Although I appreciate a little humor sprinkled into my heavy dramas, that's not my main beef with "Boss." The few times I laughed during the first three episodes of the season occurred when the writers themselves seemed to be amused by their own naughtiness. Last season it happened when Zajac and O'Neil had sex in the lobby of a downtown hotel. This season's biggest chuckle again involved O'Neil; this time she was gazing at her pregnant belly in the mirror. But do we really have to see all of her? The nudity took me out of the moment.

Quibbles aside, the Chicago-filmed series still looks fantastic (not unlike Robertson). Creator and executive producer Farhad Safinia, along with new showrunner Dee Johnson, capture the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago politics. They've done their research, fictionalizing real Chicago issues, including O'Hare expansion and public housing.

As Kane, Grammer further obliterates memories of his "Frasier" days, delivering a searing portrayal that was wrongly overlooked by Emmy voters. Grammer's supporting cast—especially Nicole Forester as Zajac's wife, Maggie—keeps in perfect lock-step with the star.

It's as if they're following orders from the mayor himself.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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