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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
(Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)
The network's description: "CANE stars Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Jimmy Smits ("The West Wing") in an epic drama about the external rivalries and internal power struggles of a large Cuban-American family running an immensely successful rum and sugar business in South Florida. When the family patriarch, Pancho (Hector Elizondo, "Chicago Hope"), is offered a lucrative but questionable deal by his bitter adversary, the Samuels, to purchase thousands of acres of sugar fields, he's faced with a tough choice: Should he cash out of the sugar business and focus solely on rum, which would please his impulsive natural son, Frank (Nestor Carbonell, "Lost"), or protect the family legacy that he built from the ground up by not selling, and side with his adopted son, Alex (Smits), who mistrusts the Samuels and still sees value in sugar. Alex and Frank's approach to business is as different as their approach to life. While Frank might lose focus chasing women, Alex is deeply in love with his beautiful wife, Isabel (Paola Turbay, "Bailando por un Sueo"), who is also Pancho's daughter. Married when she was just 17 years old, Isabel balances Alex by choosing not to involve herself in the business, focusing instead on their three children, who are determined to forge their own paths outside the family. For the Duques, will family allegiance come first or will their secrets and acrimonious conflicts over love, lust and control of the family fortune be their downfall? Eddie Matos ("General Hospital"), Rita Moreno ("West Side Story"), Michael Trevino ("The Riches"), Lina Esco ("CSI: NY"), Sam Carman ("Bones"), Alona Tal ("Veronica Mars") and Polly Walker ("Rome") also star. Cynthia Cidre ("The Mambo Kings"), Jonathan Prince ("American Dreams"), Jimmy Iovine ("8 Mile") and Polly Anthony ("Lifehouse: Live in Portland!") are the executive producers for ABC Studios in association with CBS Paramount Network Television."
What did they leave out: Keep a pad and pen handy while watching - the Duque family tree can be somewhat convoluted.
The plot in a nutshell: Pancho (the always great Hector Elizondo) is the ailing patriarch of the Duque family, which owns a successful rum and sugar business in South Florida. He and his wife Amalia (Rita Moreno) have three natural children, all with varying degrees of ambition: Francisco/Frank (Nestor Carbonell) wants to sell their sugar cane fields so they can focus on the sexier rum side of the business; Enrique/Henry (Eddie Matos) wants to expand the Duque name into the nightclub and music business; and Isabel (a stunning Paola Turbay) is housewife to Alejandro/Alex (Jimmy Smits), Pancho's adopted son. Not surprisingly, there's a bit a sibling rivalry in the clan, especially between Alex and Frank. The former, despite his adopted status, is Pancho's favored son, leaving the latter to play second fiddle in the family business. Their chief sticking point: an offer by their rivals, the Samuels family, for said sugar cane fields. Alex thinks it's a bad idea as his political connections tell him the government is about to pass legislation that will favor sugar over corn in the country's ethanol production (which would make them the "Saudi princes of the sugar business"). Not helping matters is Frank's current bedroom liaison Ellis (Polly Walker, trading her English accent on "Rome" for a Southern one here) is the daughter of Pancho's nemesis, the also ailing Joe Samuels (Ken Howard), who bullied Pancho out of part of his land years ago and was somehow complicit in the death of his three-year-old daughter Lucia. (See, I told you you'd need a scorecard.) And if that wasn't enough drama to go around: Isabel and Alex have three children of their own: eldest Jamie (Michael Trevino) worships his father in the same way Alex worships Pancho; middle child Katie (Lina Esco) is growing up too fast; and youngest Artie (Sam Carmen) just wants to make the local all-star baseball team. It falls to Alex then to balance his home - Jamie doesn't want to go to college, underage Katie wants to go her uncle's club - and work - Joe has sent an old thug to threaten his family - fronts. In the end, Alex must make some hard decisions about how to handle the Duque empire, which may require him to get his hands a little dirty.
What works: The show's backdrop of South Florida proves to be as colorful and rich as you'd expect while Smits and Elizondo topline an extremely likeable cast. At the same time though...
What doesn't: ...there's just no "oomph" to the show. All the various plots and characters are straight out of "Primetime Soap 101" - from the black widow temptress to the rival families with years of bad blood to the brothers who compete for the father's affections. In other words, as cool and (forgive the pun) intoxicating as the cast and concept initially feels, it's still the same vanilla bag of tricks. Will Alex put a hit out on Joe's henchman, the same guy who was there when Lucia was killed all those years ago? Will Frank storm out of the room yet again when Alex gets his way? Will Jamie ditch college to join the Army just like his father did? All of these questions answer themselves before they're even finished being asked. I just had higher hopes for this show. That being said, considering its pedigree of Smits, Elizondo and company, the series - much like ABC's "Big Shots" - deserves the benefit of the doubt for now. Here's to being given more reasons for tuning in.
The bottom line: A disappointment for sure, but one I'm willing to ride out for now.