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The thrills of ‘Boss’ will be missed (the nudity, not so much)

Kelsey Grammer as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane 'Boss' Starz

Kelsey Grammer as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane on "Boss" on Starz

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:06AM

Here’s one theory as to why Starz’s drama “Boss” won’t be back for a third season: They ran out of ways to show Kitty O’Neil naked.

Make no mistake, I loved this series starring Kelsey Grammer as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, a ruthless leader clutching to power while dying from a degenerative brain disorder. Deftly acted and smartly written (most of the time), “Boss” was a thrilling blend of Shakespeare and soap opera, set — and filmed — in Chicago. Not only did it employ a deep bench of local actors and production crew, it portrayed a gritty, raw side of the city seldom seen on TV.

For these reasons and more, I proudly count myself among the show’s small but devoted fan base, which got the bad news this week that “Boss” has been canceled. I’m disappointed but not surprised. Ratings were up sophomore season but still nowhere near great, or even good. That, combined with a lack of Emmy love, didn’t help its staying power.

“Boss” made some major changes heading into its second season, bringing on a new co-showrunner and adding several new characters, the best of whom turned out to be Ian Todd (Jonathan Groff), Mayor Kane’s ambitious young advisor and son — a fact that viewers discovered but Kane did not by the time season two wrapped in October. That reveal was one of the many things I was looking forward to in the now scuttled third season.

But “Boss” also lost a key character: Kane’s pragmatic right-hand man Ezra Stone (those weird hallucinations of him don’t count). Stone, wonderfully played by Martin Donovan, brought a gravitas that was sorely missing without him. His absence was a big reason season two wasn’t as strong as the show’s freshman run.

Some returning characters were more problematic this season, too. It became increasingly hard to buy crusading journalist Sam Miller’s (Troy Garity) actions. Driving up to Toronto and posing as an insurance investigator to get Kane’s medical records? (A journalism no-no.) Paying a guy $10,000 for a story tip? (Another no-no.)

More important, the biggest “Boss” flaws weren’t fixed the second time around. The show continued to be a bit too smart for its own good. The incredibly dense plot and political wheelings and dealings were exhausting to watch, not to mention difficult to keep track of. I’m not advocating that it should have been dumbed down, just spaced out so viewers would have had a chance to breathe.

Perhaps my biggest gripe was when it forgot it was a sophisticated drama and thought it was soft porn. The gratuitous sex and salacious camera shots only served to disrupt momentum and lend an air of silliness. You could build a drinking game around how many times Kitty (Kathleen Robertson) and others hiked up their skirts or dropped trou.

Flaws aside, “Boss” was among the best shows on TV. Its end is premature, both for fans and its creator, Farhad Safinia, who talked about the series at a gathering of television reporters shortly before season two premiered in August.

“We made an initial promise to the audience in the very opening scene of the first episode,” he said. “We sort of told you that we’re looking at this end run. We’re looking at a timeline that is going to be studied until [Kane’s] ultimate demise. I hope that we get to tell the entire story.”

That won’t happen now, but we might get some resolution. Starz says a two-hour series finale may get made, although there’s no deal yet. Let’s hope Mayor Kane can get it done.

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