Like CBS All Access’ fantastic The Good Fight, Freeform’s new series Party of Five is in direct response to President Trump’s policies, giving faces (albeit fictional) to the real-life consequences of the Trump administration. Is this something we can actually thank President Trump for … ?
There are few shows that hold such a special place in my heart as the original Party of Five, which ran on Fox from 1994-2000. The series—which launched the careers of Scott Wolf, Neve Campbell, Matthew Fox and Jennifer Love Hewitt—was a nuanced family drama, a counterpoint to the very fun but very over-the-top antics of Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place in the early days of Fox.
Amy Lippman and Chris Keyser, the series original creators, return to put a 2020 spin on their beloved series. Much like Norman Lear was able to bring One Day at a Time into the new millennium, Lippman and Keyser set the new Party of Five in the midst of the current political climate.
In the original, the family’s parents died in a car crash, while in this new version, Javier (Bruno Bichir) and Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola) Acosta are successful restaurant owners with five children ranging from 24-year-old Emilo (Brandon Larracuente) to the baby Rafa (who grows quite a bit from Episode 1 to Episode 2 but still exists mainly to need a diaper change no one wants to give). One evening ICE arrives at the restaurant; Javier and Gloria know the drill and quickly usher out all their undocumented workers. The problem is that this time ICE is here for them, and the two parents are torn away from their children with no warning.
Emilio, whose DACA status is talked about early and often, is a musician who initially wants very little to do with suddenly being thrust into the parental role. Twins Beto (Niko Guardado) and Lucia (Emily Tosta) are adolescents desperately in need of their parents, as one is failing out of school and the other is finding her defiant political voice. Youngest daughter Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi) struggles to sleep at night without her parents around. These characters all hold some similarities with their ‘90s counterparts (like Charlie in the original, Emilio is a womanizer) but are wholly their own creation. And having the parents alive but absent gives the series a terrific dramatic thrust. Emilio must not only step into his parents’ shoes but he must do so under their watchful eye. Javier and Gloria may be in Mexico, but they talk to their children every day, and Javier still keeps tabs on his restaurant. They are alive to watch their children continue without them, but are able to do very little about what they see going wrong and what they know is unfair—whether it’s Emilio having to move back in to his parents’ house or Lucia being saddled with the responsibility of a baby.
The trick with a series like this is to educate and inform the viewer without seeming preachy. The main point of a family drama must remain to entertain. Party of Five does that with compelling teen angst, love triangles, rebellious adolescents, family intrigue and all the other things that make a good drama tick. In its heyday, the original Party of Five wasn’t afraid to tackle thorny and at-the-time taboo subjects (teen alcoholism, abortion) and this new version is poised to do the same. They even offer a counterpoint, like when Lucia asks a teacher not to fail Beto and the teacher, an immigrant herself, lectures Lucia on how her parents not following the rules has made it harder for everyone. “There are no free passes, not for your parents, not for any of us,” she tells Lucia.
The show is well aware that it is representing just one family situation and is in no way representative of the all the ramifications of parents being torn away from their children. “There are a ton of families like us. A lot of them are way worse off,” Lucia says. The scene where the children must say goodbye as their parents are deported will destroy you.
The key, it seems, to having a successful reboot is bringing back the original creators. Some of the character beats are the same; the house, (although now in Los Angeles not San Francisco) looks very similar, and some of the situations (like a business partner who is duplicitous) are familiar. But the series wholly exists in this modern time—there’s FaceTime, Google and Go Fund Me accounts. Sometimes the kids talk a little too much like those loquacious kids on Dawson’s Creek. Would a kid who struggles in school use the word “subtext” in an argument with his brother? And right, now the plot supersedes any nuanced character development.
But these are small quibbles that are to be expected as the series lays its foundation. Right now I’m just happy to have the Party continue.
Party of Five premieres January 8th on Freeform.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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