Showtime makes room for minorities with new series

M.S. Mason Arts and television writer of The Christian Science Monitor

New shows for summer - what a concept! Even the networks are finally getting into the act, but cable has long looked at summer as prime time for its new shows.

This week, Showtime kicks off its season with a poignant new drama, "Resurrection Blvd.," and a new comic-drama, "Soul Food."

Showtime's established hits - the comedies "Beggars and Choosers" (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.) and "Rude Awakening" (Thursdays, 10 p.m.), and the sci-fi thriller "Stargate SG-1" (Fridays, 10 p.m.) - also contribute to a warm-weather lineup that isn't warmed over.

Resurrection Blvd. (Mondays, beginning June 26, 10-11 p.m.) is the first dramatic series to feature a predominantly Latino cast and crew - writers, directors, and producers. Created by Dennis Leoni, it aims to reflect the realities of Latino life in East Los Angeles. At its core, "Resurrection" is a family drama about the tightly knit Santiago clan.

At the head of the family, the widower Roberto (played with strength by Tony Plana), is a mechanic with a boxing background who lives vicariously through his sons. He trains his middle son, Carlos (Michael DeLorenzo, in a powerhouse performance) to become the champion Roberto never was.

Meanwhile his younger son, a medical student at UCLA, falls in love with a Caucasian woman; his older daughter, Yolanda, works in a Beverly Hills law firm; and his high school age daughter is attracted to the wrong boy.

The complications come rapidly, and all the siblings find themselves doing their best to protect and support one another amid the tragedy of street violence and broken dreams. The boxing subplot is mostly a device to indicate how the working-class poor turn to sports for a way up and out. But what fuels this tale is love of family - and a changing culture.

One of the best things about the series is the way each of the women makes a space for herself - by pushing against the boundaries (however lovingly meant) that their male relatives set up for them. The gentle rebellion is spearheaded by Aunt Bibi (the always-dazzling Elizabeth Pea), who puts Roberto in his place.

Soul Food (Wednesdays, beginning June 28, 10-11:45 p.m.) is based on the hit movie of the same name. African-Americans dominate cast and crew, and it is emphatically a family story revolving around three sisters and their husbands and children. The Joseph family is an upwardly mobile, working-class family with one member a professional and the others struggling for their place in the middle class.

"Soul Food" shows us the range of the African-American experience within the confines of a single family, and most of the time it works well. The first episode felt too much like an introduction to the characters, though, so it will be interesting to see how involving the series actually becomes.

Both dramas contain adult content which makes them unsuitable for children - a shame, because they have a lot to say about the importance of family.

The good news, however, is that Showtime has moved beyond tokenism and is trying something real.

"When you program for a premium network," says Mark Zakerin, executive vice president of programming for Showtime, "part of the mandate is to do that which traditional broadcast networks have been unwilling or unable to do. It's a way of standing up and a way of providing something to your subscriber they can't get anywhere else....

"America is a diverse place," he continues. "You can imagine what it's like to grow up in a culture in which your image is not reflected back at you in a meaningful way.

"If we do this right, we have the opportunity to provide African-Americans and Hispanic Americans what has not been provided them before."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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