Along with the new "Dirty Sexy Money" and the ongoing "Brothers & Sisters," "Cane" represents a current slight return for the family-business epic. The show, set among the sugar cane fields and seaside estates of South Florida, premieres tonight on CBS, appropriately the former home of "Dallas," "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest," and while it's really too soon to tell whether the story is going to take us anywhere special, there are signs that it might.
Created by Cuban-born Cynthia Cidre, who wrote the screenplay for "The Mambo Kings" and grew up herself in South Florida, "Cane" is in most respects a class act, albeit one whose energy so far derives largely from a real star turn by Jimmy Smits.
Smits plays Alex Vega, the not-quite-adopted "son" of Pancho Duque (Hector Elizondo), a South Florida sugar-and-rum magnate; he is also his son-in-law, having married his own more-or-less adoptive sister Isabel (Miss Universe runner-up Paola Turbay). As it opens, Pancho has decided to divide his estate, it being his fast intent to shake all cares and business from his age, conferring them on younger strengths, while he unburthen'd crawls toward death -- which, according to his doctor, will come in six months to a year, though you can always pray to the show runner for a miracle, or a misdiagnosis.
It is a little hard to see just who the Cordelia is in this "King Lear" scenario, let alone the J.R. But the younger strength upon whom Pancho primarily confers his business is Alex, a doom that sits less than well with competitive natural offspring Frank Duque (Nestor Carbonell), more of a son but less of a strength. "You've become distracted," Pancho tells Frank by way of explaining his decision. "The women, the boats, the money."
Frank is in league, and in bed, with Ellis Samuels (the excellent Polly Walker of "Rome," adding another scheming sexpot to her résumé), scion of a rival sugar concern to which he has been encouraging his father to sell off his cane fields.
Frank sees the future in rum, while Alex looks toward an emerging market in sugar-based ethanol -- you weren't expecting ethanol, were you? And so there is a little bit of Cain and Abel in it as well: the father favoring one son's fruits of the fields over the other's spirits in the bottle. I smell trouble.
Notwithstanding the novelty of the setting, the nice Latin music and good individual work by the cast -- Walker is especially notable in a role made to notice -- Smits is the engine that drives the ship; he gives "Cane" at least an illusion of speed and substance and soul. (He's certainly onscreen more than anyone else.) Smits' appeal is wide -- over 50, strong enough for a man but gentle enough for a woman, but still sexy and capable (of many things, as we shall see).
"Cane" is a pan-generational story; it suits the milieu, of course, but in practice it also has something to do with market research. The Early Bird Special set gets Elizondo and the redoubtable Rita Moreno (as his wife, Amalia), whose charm has only ripened with age.
And for the kids to whom even Jimmy Smits may look like Uncle Joe movin' kind of slow at the junction, there are multiple hot young things: youngest Duque son Henry (Eddie Matos), who runs a nightclub; Alex's son Jaime (Michael Trevino), who has been accepted to MIT but has other ideas; Jaime's girlfriend, Rebecca (Alona Tai); and his teenage sister, Katie (Lina Esco), who just wants to have fun. Little brother Artie (Samuel Carman) is younger than anyone who will be allowed to stay up and watch.
When: 10 to 11 tonight
Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)