Picks and Pans Review: Soul Food

updated 07/10/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Showtime (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

The 1997 movie Soul Food was a messy, large-hearted comedy-drama about a multigenerational African-American family that fought about almost everything but maintained the tradition of bountiful Sunday dinners at the Chicago home of wise old Mama Joe (Irma P. Hall). By the end of the film the matriarch had passed away, but that minor fact won't stop Hall's character from making regular appearances in this new series. Like the dead mother in Providence, she's available for apparitions and advice.

Though Hall is the only cast holdover from the big screen, TV's Soul Food retains the spirit of the original along with at least one of its flaws. The narrator is still Ahmad (now played by Aaron Meeks), Mama Joe's 12-year-old grandson-despite sex scenes that clearly mark this as adult fare. The first two episodes (June 28 and July 5) had me wondering, Can Ahmad see the hot stuff? And if so, how come he's not commenting on that• But I don't question the competence of Nicole Ari Parker, who ably succeeds Vanessa L. Williams as Ahmad's Aunt Teri, a divorced lawyer with a superior attitude. Vanessa Williams (less famous than Vanessa L. but familiar from Melrose Place and Chicago Hope) also registers strongly as the unpretentious Maxine, Ahmad's mother and Teri's perennial sibling rival. Yet another Williams—first name Malinda—portrays the third sister, Bird, whose husband (Darrin Dewitt Henson) is an impulsive ex-con. Soul Food is inconsistent, but it whets the appetite.

Bottom Line: Don't just eat and run

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