Cane -- An early look
Rum, sex and scandal? What's not to love? I'm betting the pitch meeting went something like this:
"It's the Latino Godfather."
"Can we get Jimmy Smits?"
"Who do I make the check out to?"
What CBS has ended up with is a little less Godfather and a lot more Dallas, but it's still got TV heavyweight Jimmy Smits at its center. That may just be good enough to score CBS a hit.
Jimmy Smits is one of those actors that just belongs on TV. He's done film. He's done stage work, but he doesn't own any medium in the way he owns television. Smits brings just the right amount of gravitas to the sudsy Cane. Without Smits at its core, Cane might have gone the way of bloated melodrama. As it is, it's a by-the-book, watchable network drama that is, at least, more interesting than its timeslot competitors Law & Order: SVU and Boston Legal.
Smits has an all-star supporting crew. Hector Elizondo. Nestor Carbonell. Rita Moreno. Not that the ladies got much screentime in the pilot. For god's sake, you've got Rita-freaking-Morena on the set. Hopefully, Mama Duque will get a little more play as the series progresses. That's a minor quibble, however, with a stellar cast that's plainly up to the challenge of playing the sprawling, multi-generational Cuban-American Duque family.
In the pilot episode, the Duque family, which owns and operates a thriving rum and sugar business in South Florida, is offered a hefty sum to relinquish ownership of their sugar cane fields. The decision of whether or not to sell divides the family. To say more would be giving the plot away - something we try assiduously to avoid in these "early look" posts.
Needless to say, all manner of double-dealing ensues. There's jealously, sex, violence and all the trappings we've come to expect from a primetime soap. The major difference here is that all the stereotypical shenanigans are played out against a Miami backdrop by actors with real chops. Oh, and they just happen to be Latino actors. Fancy that. Someone over at CBS woke up and read the Census Report.
Cane just barely avoids the annoying "I'm going to eat some gumbo now because I'm in New Orleans" mistake that K-Ville made earlier this week. (K-Ville is shot on location in New Orleans, but in my opinion, the show failed to give you a real sense of city in its pilot episode.) Cane does a little bit of the same thing. Everyone drinks mojitos, and one of the Duque boys owns a nightclub in South Beach. (Perhaps, you "tasted" one care of crazy, stupid Marketing Ideas 101. Get the kids hooked on those non-alcoholic, calorie-free mojitos early!) But, the total sum of the environment is more compelling, the actors make it believable even at its cheesier moments and writer Cythnia Cidre comes from the "write what you know" school. Her father was a sugar chemist in Cuba.
If Cane has a weakness, it's that it is what it is. It's by-the-numbers. It's a Godfather knock-off. It's a primetime soap opera on network TV in a time when basic cable operations are turning out shows like Rescue Me, Damages and Mad Men. It's solid, and it's good for it is. It may even get great as the season continues. You just have to like what it is. It's like when you see a band, and you can recognize analytically that its members are excellent musicians but you just don't dig the style of music they're playing so you're never going to like it. That's how I feel about Cane. The players rock. The pitch is awesome. The setting is sexy. And, it's about damn time on the diversity front. But, will I ever want to watch a network version of The Godfather after HBO rewrote the playbook with The Sopranos? Probably not, but that doesn't mean you won't like it. And, it certainly doesn't mean that it won't be a hit. (Buy TVBigshots!) Between the heavy promotion and Jimmy Smits at its helm, the smart money's on Cane making it to season two.