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Review: Cane

The actors bring authenticity to what is otherwise a hysterical, Dynasty-style vision of Cuban-American experience.

Photo: CBS

CBS’s Cane was all the talk last week at a barbecue at my parents’ house. Finally, a TV show about Cubans! Thankful for the program’s representation of the under-represented, the Gonzalez clan couldn’t care less—as well they shouldn’t—that only one actor from the show, Nestor Carbonell, is actually Cuban. The all-star cast, which includes Hector Elizondo as the patriarch of the Duque family and Jimmy Smits as the adopted son who inherits principal control of the old man’s sugar cane business in a contentious handover, bring authenticity to what is otherwise a hysterical, Dynasty-style vision of Cuban-American experience set in and around kitschy Miami, a place of perpetual waterskiing and club-hopping (it’s like something out of the over-saturated imagination of Tony Scott—or Señor Spielbergo). But the accents always ring true and the wheeling and dealing that stokes much of the confrontations between the Duques and the rival Samuels family is shaded with political and moral nuance. There’s also a refreshing but never overzealous need to educate audiences about Cuban history: The writers assume audiences have the sense to know who are balseros, but assumes its target demographic is probably too young to know about Operation Peter Pan, hence the lengthy explanation (at least by typical TV standards) of how Alex Vega (Smits) came to be adopted by Pancho Duque (Elizondo) and his wife, Amalia (Rita Moreno). The Duques probably make too much money to cook for their guests themselves, so we’re unlikely to see La Caja China anytime soon, but a shot of roast pig will suffice at this point—at least a close-up of Amalia’s ostensibly delicious home cooking. Such cultural specificity is missing from the show’s dubious plantation-style atmosphere, but in Alex’s rise to power and what his new position does to him—as a brother, husband, father and man—there’s a striking need to address the effects of the political on the personal. This is preferable to Andy Garcia’s abhorrent The Lost City, which may have shown us a plate of tostones but never cared to confront the good and bad of Cuban socioeconomic mobility in this country.

Cast: Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Nestor Carbonell, Rita Moreno, Eddie Matos, Lina Esco, Ned Vaughn, Polly Walker, Paola Turbay, Michael Trevino, Alona Tal, Samuel Carman, Oscar Torres, Jason Beghe, Ken Howard, Dominic Rains, Paul Wesley, Sumalee Montano, Guri Weinberg, Lee Tergesen, Jonathon Trent Network: CBS, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

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