TV Review: 'Cane'

Although the first episode of CBS' "Cane" trowels on the South Florida atmosphere by the mojito-soaked bucketload, don't be fooled into thinking the series offers anything particularly new. "Cane" takes a pinch of "King Lear," a dash of "The Godfather," a pinch of "Skin," a dollop of "South Beach" and serves over crushed mint leaves and ice.

No matter how familiar "Cane" may feel, it's impossible to discount the merits of even the most reheated primetime soap opera premises when you can attract a cast that includes Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Nestor Carbonell and Rita Moreno.

Titled "Los Duques" in its early development and presumably retitled because market research suggested that audiences would rather watch a show with a confusingly generic name than a show with a Spanish name, "Cane" is the story of the multi-generational Duque family. Patriarch Pancho (Elizondo) has spent four decades building a sugar cane and rum empire for his flashy son Frank (Carbonell), daughter Isabel (Paola Turbay) and youngest Henry (Eddie Matos), who would rather be running nightclubs. His decision to pass the business down to son-in-law/adopted son (we'll just ignore the icky semi-incest) Alex Vega (Smits), threatens to tear the family apart just as they're on the verge of a turf war with a rival family.

Alex is the family's Michael Corleone. He wants the Duques to be more than just wealthy, he wants for the clan to acquire political capital, seeing sugar-based ethanol as the path to true clout. Although Alex aspires to be a fully assimilated immigrant, distancing himself from a sketchy past, by the end of the pilot he's made several decisions that push the character into full-blown darkness. He isn't kidding when he says he'd do anything to protect his family.

Creator Cynthia Cidre doesn't hesitate to push the American Dream symbolism hard, but there's no question that thanks to their Cubano heritage, the Duques have a cultural shading that the small screen has rarely if ever seen before.

Because Latinos have been so completely ignored on TV dramas, it's no wonder that the show's cast often looks like an all-star team. The problem with the multi-generational approach, though, is that while the older characters get the meaty subplots involving business, politics, sex and crime, the kids are lost in an instantly forgettable nightclub malaise, harmed by the fact that Henry is by far the least interesting of his siblings. As tensions heat up with the rival sugar family (dominated thus far by the presence of Polly Walker, whose hilarious attempts at a Southern accent may be less grating when she has a character), it's easy to imagine the Duque and Vega kids all being sent off to permanent boarding school.

Directed by Christian Duguay, the "Cane" pilot isn't quite as glutted with regional cliches as the first episode of FOX's "K-Ville," but it's close and my own preference for Miami-set dramas would be for Showtime's "Dexter." It's unclear how CBS will handle the serialized drama and regional specificity of "Cane" amidst a network schedule dominated by cookie-cutter procedurals that substitute colored filters for location shooting.

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