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TV Review: Cane Lacks Spice

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With a cast that includes Hector Elizondo, Jimmy Smits, and Rita Moreno, a premise that uses the immigrant experience and adoptive families to explore outsiders and belonging, and enough pretty people with enough danger and deception in their lives, Cane should be far more interesting than it is. So far, though, it's stylish with little substance beyond the melodrama that will seem awfully familiar to anyone who's ever watched a soap opera.

The main problem is that the sprawling cast and meandering plot don't contain enough distinctive characters yet, beyond the trio of dying patriarch Pancho Duque (Elizondo, Chicago Hope, Pretty Woman), natural son Frank Duque (Nestor Carbonell, Lost, Suddenly Susan), and adopted son Alex Vega (Smits, The West Wing, NYPD Blue), who married his adoptive sister Isabel (former Miss Colombia Paola Turbay) when she was 17. I think that's supposed to be romantic.

Jimmy Smits as Alex Vega in Cane.The root of their issues is family infighting and a rivalry with another powerful family.  Frank makes constant digs about Alex not being a real part of the family, while Pancho is torn between his love for both the seemingly more level-headed, happily married Alex and the hotheaded, womanizing Frank, plus his desire to do right by the business he's built up over 40 years. The brothers are at odds over an offer from their archenemies, the Samuels, to buy the Duques' land to let them focus on the distillery that is the jewel in their business empire.

Frank wants to sell; Alex sees the sugar cane fields as the key to the Duques' future success. As he says, the government is considering basing ethanol production on sugar instead of corn, and if it goes their way, "sugar is the new oil." Corn or sugar: I'm on the edge of my seat.

It's a line that reinforces my impression of Cane as a Cuban-flavoured Dallas without the camp. It's all too serious, too slow, too familiar to make much of an impact.

Still, there's a lot of material to be mined here, and a lot of underused characters whose stories are bound to be told in future episodes. Pancho's wife Amalia (Moreno, West Side Story) is barely a presence in the pilot, and the Duques' other son, Henry, and the Vegas' three kids all have hints of potentially explosive melodramas of their own. To be more successful than the pilot, though, the series will have to mine those stories in more unexpected ways.

Cane airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS or Global in Canada, premiering September 25.

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About Diane Kristine Wild