The U.S. immigration debate on Monday crossed the border into comedic territory when it was announced by a Miami television production company that the new sitcom it is producing will feature three recently arrived refugees as the show’s protagonists. The refugees, who made landfall in Miami, hail from Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico, with a fourth ‘refugee’ who came from Brooklyn. Their names are Felipe, Philippe, and Philip.
The show is called, “W.E.T.S.,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZyBWzizN8U&feature=youtu.be) an acronym for Workers Employment Temporary Service, a fictional immigration program in which refugees learn to speak English, are given entry level jobs, and live together in specially constructed W.E.T.S. dormitories. The goal of the program is to seamlessly mainstream the refugees into American society.
“Although a fictional program, I think ‘W.E.T.S.’ would solve a lot of today’s immigration problems,” said Jay Schorr, president of TMR Multimedia, which developed and shot the “W.E.T.S.” pilot. “We’re a country built on immigration, and by people looking for a better way of life.”
“W.E.T.S.” actually got its start 30 years ago when TMR Multimedia – inspired by the 1980 Cuban Mariel boatlift during which more than 100,000 Cubans emigrated to the U.S. through Miami – taped a pilot for NBC. The original cast included Brian Regan, who went on to become one of America’s top stand-up comics and a favorite guest of David Letterman, and musician Carole King’s mother, Eugenia Gingold.
The real life refugees – none of whom have acting experience – are excited about the prospect of working on the show.
“In my country, it’s a daily struggle for survival,” said Philippe Dujour, a Port-Au-Prince native. “To be given this opportunity is something I never dreamt could happen.”
The refugees all have “natural acting abilities,” said Schorr, who was impressed by how intuitively they each handled the script dialogue and how well they worked off each other.
“It’s like they’ve been acting for years, and the chemistry between them transcends ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundaries,” Schorr said. “It’s all about people relating to people. Under it all, we’re all the same with a common purpose: Peaceful and prosperous co-existence.”
When TMR Multimedia's original W.E.T.S. pilot was shot in 1983, one of the beach locations used was off the Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami. Shooting just down the beach was what was to become another refugee classic, “Scarface” starring Al Pacino.
“I remember seeing the equipment trucks for ‘Scarface’,” said Al Romero, who played Felipe Diaz in TMR Multimedia's original “W.E.T.S.” pilot. “There was magic in the air and we all knew we were part of something special,” Romero said. Romero would go on to enjoy a successful stand-up comic career that continues to flourish.
As befits its subject matter, the show is not without controversy thanks to today’s hotly contested immigration issue. Some critics point to the fictional “W.E.T.S.” program as putting refugees before American citizens, giving them menial jobs, housing and feeding them while many Americans are unemployed.
“If we’re going to do a show about a real life problem, even if it’s a sitcom, let’s put some realism in it,” said Tom DeMink, an unemployed truck driver from Miami. “I’ve got no problem with immigrants, but I think we’ve got to first get jobs for citizens.”
For other Americans, the show is a step in the right direction to solving an ongoing problem that’s costing Americans billions of dollars.
“I’m for a legal, fair solution to the immigration problem,” proffered Beverly Bounders, a legal secretary from Tampa. “If immigrants are willing to work hard to become responsible citizens who contribute to the well being of the U.S. then I say give them a shot.”
Based on Hollywood’s initial reaction to the original “W.E.T.S.” pilot, they’re willing to give “W.E.T.S.” a shot. And it just might be one of those rare instances where life imitates art.
“The show is hilarious and informative,” said TMR Multimedia's Schorr. “I think it’s going to be huge success for its comedy and its humanity.”