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  • Nonno Libero Paves the Way for Italian Role Models
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    OCTOBER 24, 2004 - For me, it was love at first sight. During the new year holiday '98-'99, I went to Italy with my family - and first began watching the Italian dramedy Un Medico in Famiglia. The TV show about Nonno Libero (played by the beloved Lino Banfi) and his doctor son's family was a genuine hit driven by the love story between the doctor and his live-in nanny. When Italians in other parts of the world gripe about the media's portrayal of Italians in film and television, they never seem to have an answer about what kind of show should be aired instead. Now, they do - with the arrival of the show's fourth season - now called Un Nuovo Medico in Famiglia - on RAI International.

    In the early days of the show, the doctor's first wife had died leaving him to care for his three kids and his nephew - all with the help of his father Libero. The nanny moves in to help them get settled and by the end of the first season the nanny and doctor get married and have twins. Although the episodes are much longer and include serious story lines about working in hospitals, much of the love story was similar to that of sitcoms such as The Nanny or Who's the Boss?. The plot was sweet and had you rooting for these lovable characters who were able to overcome a terrible loss and find joy again.

    Viewers loved the show so much that creators decided to bring it back in 2003 - only this time, the doctor son and nanny had moved to Australia with the twins leaving Nonno Libero to watch the three older kids from the first marriage - Maria, now an adult studying to be a doctor herself, Ciccio, a teenage boy navigating dating and considering a career in professional sports, and Annunccia, a smart-as-a-whip grade schooler. Nonno Libero's daughter and her black baby force the family to deal with issues of race and prejudice. And his other grandson Alberto is eye candy for young female viewers. Housekeeper Cettina is a breath of fresh air with her hilarious antics about finding a husband and having babies of her own.

    This time the show was driven by another love story between Maria and Guido, the doctor who replaces her father at the local hospital and rents a room in the family's house to help with expenses. It took the whole 2003 season to get Maria and Guido, who is a little more than 10 years older than her, together. But viewers loved every minute of it. Along the way, the show covered much heavier topics like living with a disability, getting over obsessive compulsive disorder, leaving the priesthood and becoming a single mother. This time around, things are just as funny and just as serious with episodes that include the levity of telling jokes around the family dinner table and the gravity of going bankrupt.

    The point is that Nonno Libero represents traditional Italy - and its values. Through his eyes, we confront all that the modern era is bringing to this evolving country that still has a little bit of the Old World in it. We see him deal with Maria and Guido's decision to live together before marriage, his daughter's resolution to have a baby out of wedlock, his family's changing face. It's all happening too quickly for him. But he relies on the foundation of love that he laid down. In the end, you always have the feeling that the Italian family will survive despite all the changes of this new world. If you tune in, you'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll see a glimpse of a real Italian family striving to better itself. And you'll undoubtedly fall in love with Nonno Libero - Italy's past, present and future incarnate.

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