- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Heaven and hell

Television’s big fall preview week continues tonight: Fox brings back “Bones” and “House,” while ABC returns “Boston Legal.” CBS, meanwhile, brings us one of the best new shows of the season; “Cane” premieres at 10 following “NCIS” and “The Unit.”

“Cane” has it all: sex, money, politics … and Jimmy Smits.

The actor makes a welcome return to episodic TV (after “The West Wing” ended two seasons ago) as Alex Vega, heir apparent to a South Florida rum and sugar dynasty. Alex is the adopted son of patriarch Pancho Duque (Hector Elizondo), but the smart and savvy guy has his father’s ear more often than natural sons Frank (Nestor Carbonell) and Henry (Eddie Matos), making for some resentment.

The Cuban-American family is at a crossroads: Frank and Henry want to sell the sugar fields and concentrate on the rum business. Alex is more far-thinking. “Sugar is the new oil,” he declares, explaining that ethanol can be made out of sugar just as easily as out of corn.

It’s a “Dallas” for the 21st century.

In just one hour tonight, the elements are all put into place for some high drama down the road. Yet the acting is never over the top. Besides consummate professional Mr. Smits, acting vets Mr. Elizondo and Rita Moreno anchor the show as Alex’s parents.

But the one thing most likely to attract a huge audience for “Cane”? It’s focused on a Hispanic family. You’ll hear a fair amount of Spanish during tonight’s pilot, and the series is being simulcast in the language.

The growing number of Hispanic viewers has helped make successes of shows such as ABC’s recent Emmy winner “Ugly Betty” — not to mention giving all-Spanish networks such as Univision increasing influence.

Also, in a nod to political synergy, tonight’s pilot is running with limited commercial interruption thanks to Chevrolet, which is highlighting its new fuel-efficiency campaign through ads that mirror the story line.

Elsewhere, we move from the heaven of Miami to the hell of — well, hell — with the CW’s “Reaper,” debuting tonight at 9.

Bret Harrison stars as slacker Sam, who finds out on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born. (Surprise, surprise: He’s the firstborn son.)

Now he’s forced to act as the devil’s bounty hunter, finding and returning the bad guys who have escaped from the fires of hell. He’s helped by his friend Sock, a Jack Black-like sidekick played by Tyler Labine.

The show is a dark hybrid of comedy and a few cool but gruesome special effects. But it works, thanks to a very funny script and a hilariously evil devil, played by Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks,” “24”). Tonight’s pilot was helmed by “Clerks” director Kevin Smith.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance from staff reports.

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