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  • Giving Thanks for the Hit TV Show La Squadra
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Every Monday night on RAI International, viewers can tune into La Squadra, a popular police drama that takes place in Napoli but tackles global issues -- from international prostitution rings to corruption in professional sports. As foreigners hooked on an Italian TV series, we are doubly blessed with entertainment and a window on Italian popular culture. What does the success of La Squadra tell us about contemporary Italy?

    Broken into three parts, each episode is like a movie, with its rich outdoor scenes in prime locales and a realistic portrayal of crime. The characters -- from Sergio Amato, an unlikely sex symbol who is a friend to everyone, to Valerio Cafasso, a father figure who always knows best -- are more developed than those in any other cop show.

    But I have to admit that the program's superior quality is not what drew me to La Squadra in the first place. Instead, the magnificent light eyes of the dark Luciano Russo, played by actor Vanni Bramati, lured me. The man's shoulders fill out a leather jacket like no other. Viewers might recognize him as an extra from the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that took place in Italy or from the critically acclaimed Italian film Malena.

    In La Squadra, Bramati's character, Russo, is the bad-boy cop. He is defiant and pushes the envelope with his superiors. Supposedly, he even beat his wife. Viewers are still waiting for that storyline to fully develop. Say it isn't so, Russo! Recently, Russo was taken hostage and tortured by Napoli's most notorious crime family. One can only wonder what kind of evolution the character will face after this experience and his alleged violent past. Ooooh, I can't wait to see it all unfold.

    Gents, don't fear. The cast is rounded out by more eye candy, in the form of Alessia Barela playing Silvia Esposito. Smart, tough-as-nails cop by day and loving single mom to a teenage daughter by night, Esposito has that perfect combination of femininity and strength (not to mention her rockin' body). Her colleagues on La Squadra certainly seem to be at least a bit smitten. And us female viewers long to be just like her.

    Esposito's current storyline is most gripping; while working undercover as a madam, she was kidnapped, forced to have sex with a pimp to maintain her identity and jailed in Kiev. All the while, she tries to keep her composure and check in on her teenage daughter, who is staying with Sergio and his blond bombshell wife Tania, while mom is away on assignment. When the other guys on the force want to take her off the case because it has gotten so dangerous, she won't have it. No job is left undone with Esposito at the helm - and that's just the way we like it.

    Okay, so the characters are complicated and interesting and ever-evolving. But what does La Squadra's success say about Italian popular culture? For one, Italians have discerning taste when it comes to television shows. They look for great cinematography and direction and wonderful stories. They want to relate to the characters, care about them and root for or against them in every given situation. The main characters better be beautiful to boot. They also ask that even dramas like La Squadra be tempered with laughter. So, Sergio's wise cracking is a welcome breath of fresh air. But the interest Italians seems to have in the plight of the less fortunate and the down-and-out in southern Italy is, perhaps, the most telling part of La Squadra's popularity. The show brings to life the hardships in Napoli that have driven people - people just like you - to commit even the most horrific of crimes.

    Episodes about the homeless, those who saw thievery as their only way off the streets and crimes of passion seem to educate Italians about their society and human nature. And Italians seem to appreciate the thought-provoking entertainment. Or maybe I'm just projecting my own admiration for the writers' courage -- from all the way here in the States -- onto my paesani in Italy.

    Regardless, the Monday nights I spend with Bramati -- err, the whole cast of La Squadra -- and simply having RAI International at my access 24/7, will be among the many things for which I am thankful this year. You might want to add them to your list, too. Check your RAI listings for more information.

    What Italian shows do you like watching? Do you want me to write about your favorite Italian programs? Please let me know. fdimeg10@aol.com

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