Blair Underwood. Heather Locklear. Jimmy Smits. These are who I like to think of as good television folks. These are the kind of folks who you just enjoy watching on the small screen and can improve whatever show they are on simply by the power of their presence. So you know that means I’m just happy to see Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue) back on television on the show Cane.

Smits plays Alex Vega, heir apparent to the rum and sugar empire of a large Cuban-American family. Pancho Duque (Hector Elizondo, Chicago Hope) creates all sorts of rivalries when he settles on his son-in-law Alex over his natural son, Frank (Nestor Carbonell). Yeah, I said the sugar cane business; it’s not very sexy, but once you get past that and focus on the intrigue of family politics, rival businesses, and the betrayals of each, you have an interesting show. It’s a show about a family trying to live the American Dream and make the most of the land of opportunity.

“You do what you have to do for your family.” Santo (Oscar Torre)

Cane revolves around the idea of family. Sometimes the definition of family needs to be broadened; for example, friends are the family you choose. Some folks have adopted family, yet regardless, we strive for a sense of unity within our diversity. We weren’t created to be islands of solitude. This self-sufficient image may work for some, but it was not what we were created to be. We were born for relationships–be they family, friendships, or colleagues–and that is what shapes us (though the absence of relationships also form us). We were created as relational beings and we live in the context of family. In taking on one another’s burdens, we define what’s best about family.

There’s nothing new here. Too many stock characters, more clichéd glyphs than real people: from the patriarch to the outsider heir apparent to the disgruntled son (Frank) to rambunctious teens (to bring the sexy back). There is also a disturbing Cubans vs. “Americans” subtext (those darn immigrants co-opting our dream) that runs as an undercurrent. Cane is a mix of The Sopranos (maybe more the short-lived but wonderful, Kingpin) and Dallas except with a Cuban-American family. It’s like comfort television.

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