Showtime has a contender

Television: "Resurrection Boulevard" puts into action all the talk about greater ethnic diversity.

June 26, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"All these years," a narrator intones as the camera hovers over a Los Angeles street, "and soon we'll have one. A champion."

The voice belongs to Roberto Santiago (Tony Plana), patriarch of a family whose men have, for generations, measured their success in the boxing ring. The champion he's referring to is his son, Carlos (Michael DeLorenzo), who's about to take on the number-one middleweight contender for a shot at the title.

But he could also be talking about "Resurrection Boulevard," which premieres tonight on Showtime. Television has taken a lot of heat lately for its lack of ethnic diversity, which explains why Showtime has chosen now to debut this weekly series set in L.A.'s Hispanic community, centering almost exclusively on Hispanic characters and featuring new and established Hispanic actors.

As bad a job as TV has done depicting African-American culture, it's done even worse with Hispanics, using them almost exclusively for comic relief. If nothing else, "Resurrection Boulevard" is a positive step toward a more diverse, all-encompassing television landscape.

All of which is why, despite a tendency to depend on formula when it comes to plot and characterization, "Resurrection Boulevard" deserves to be a contender.

The Santiago clan is a fractious bunch - the men are all hot-headed, the women tired of all the macho posturing - but at least for now, they have someone to rally around. That would be Carlos, who apparently is the first real contender four generations of boxing Santiagos have produced.

But when a run-in with some thugs leaves Carlos' career in jeopardy, the family begins to come apart. Dad looks to turn another son into a human punching bag, elder daughter Yolanda (Ruth Livier) chafes at being the family's only breadwinner and middle son Alex (Nicholas Gonzalez) debates tossing aside his med-school career to enter the ring himself.

Very little in tonight's premiere will come as a surprise. When Carlos, for example, warns a neighborhood tough to stay away from his sister, you know these guys are going to come to blows. And writer-producer Dennis E. Leoni, while displaying a nice feel for family dynamics, needs to work on his storytelling; too often, we're simply told something has happened, rather than given the chance to watch a situation (and, more importantly, a character) develop.

That extends to the boxing segments, as well. This series will certainly spend a lot of rounds in the ring, so it had better find someone who knows how to film a boxing match. The action is frequently reduced to blurry, slow-motion jabs or a few seconds of footage of one fighter's fists flailing away at the other's midsection. Worse, the boxing is often ignored altogether; we learn what's happening only by listening to the ringside commentators, who sound like they're reading signs being held aloft by the ring-card girls.

But "Resurrection Boulevard" is saved by its cast, a group of skilled actors, reveling in their all-too-rare chances to shine. Especially fun to watch are Elizabeth Pena, as Roberto's opinionated sister-in-law (he's a widower, so she gets to be the family's mother figure), and Gonzalez, who brings a light touch to his role as the conflicted son forced to choose between his family's legacy and his own future.(It'll be interesting to see if series creator Dennis E. Leoni can flesh out his Anglo characters. So far, there are only two, and pretty much all they're asked to do is stand around and look non-ethnic. Mission accomplished.)

"Resurrection Boulevard" is not stellar television, but its very existence constitutes the sort of risk TV executives need to be more willing to take. After tonight, with the characters introduced and the various conflicts set in motion, the show should be able to concentrate on its most promising (read: least conventional) elements.

The relationship between Carlos and Alex, for instance, is rife with possibilities. Here's hoping audiences display enough patience and loyalty to watch it develop.

`Resurrection Boulevard'

In brief: A Hispanic family tries to survive its boxing legacy

Where: Showtime

When: Series premiere tonight, 10 p.m.-11:35 p.m.

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