April 12, 2004 12:00 PM


PBS (check local listings)

This series has a heart much bigger than any of its flaws.

We can’t ignore the problems with American Family, which starts its second season April 4. Patriarch Jess Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos) seems drunk on exposition when he gives a toast at the wedding of son Esteban (NYPD Blue’s Esai Morales). The fight between reactionary Jess and liberal daughter Nina (Constance Marie, from George Lopez) over the Iraq war sounds like talk radio at top volume.

Still, there’s much to admire in creator Gregory Nava’s grand scheme for this season, which he calls a 13-part miniseries. Time and place are fluid and the story lines flow as one: family tensions in modern-day East Los Angeles; the struggles of Jess’s grandmother to survive the Mexican Revolution in 1915 and bring her children to the U.S.; and the challenges faced by Jess’s son Conrado (Yancey Arias, from Kingpin), an Army doctor serving in Iraq.

One beautiful sequence represents the show at its best. Widower Jess confides in a sympathetic woman friend (Jenny Gago) about his fears for Conrado. They wind up in bed, where Jess softly tells a tragic story from his Korean War days. The camera pans to the window, through which we see strife-torn old Mexico. The past is not past.

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