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Freeform's Party of Five revival is sadder and more wrenching than the original, with a political edge

  • Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman's immigration-themed revival of the ir1990s Fox drama is "important with a capital 'I' insofar as it is explicitly political, directly taking on the ruthless inhumanity of Trump’s immigration policy," says Willa Paskin. Party of Five is like a throwback teen drama about the centrality of family to the teen experience. But the fact that the parents are still alive and in another country makes the new version sadder and more wrenching. Unlike the original Party of Five's Salingers, "the Acostas are not awfully, simply without their parents. They are in an excruciating limbo," says Paskin. "They can FaceTime them, but they can’t have them. They exist but they have to pretend, protecting the adults from the financial and behavioral difficulties they face at school and at the restaurant. What the Salingers had to do was clear: Learn how to live without their parents. But the Acostas have a more complicated mandate: to outgrow their living parents, to learn not to need them, even when they can call them on the phone. The Salingers had to get on with their lives, however hard that was. But the Acostas can’t do that. The wound can’t begin to heal."


    • Party of Five takes great care to sell the immense story sitting on its characters' shoulders: "The show’s micro focus and deeply personal touches are, ultimately, what keep the show afloat and free of details that might have otherwise mired it in lofty philosophizing about the dire state of the world today," says Caroline Framke. "It would have been easy for the show to make the Acostas’ deportation a stand-in for every deportation, or to retrofit stories with the sole purpose of pointing out just how messed up the system really is. Make no mistake: Party of Five takes its premise seriously, and frequently points out the hypocrisies and no-win situations that make stories like the Acostas’ all too possible and common in real life. But in keeping its focus to this one family, and distinguishing each member of it as their own person, 2020’s Party of Five finds a way to balance its political dissections with its characters’ individual journeys, thus underlining its points even more effectively."
    • Party of Five is compelling without being preachy: "The trick with a series like this is to educate and inform the viewer without seeming preachy," says Amy Amatangelo. "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."
    • Unlike most revivals, Party of Five works: "Viewers have earned the right to be picky — and even disdainful — when it comes to the steady excess of TV reboots, resurrections and revivals," says Hank Stuever. "Not only do such shows feed a troubling nostalgia addiction in our popular culture, they also prevent progress and true innovation. For every reboot that crowds the schedule, an original idea is lost at sea. Still, there’s nothing wrong with showing some compassion for the stronger efforts. Freeform’s capable and compelling rendition of Party of Five, from the same creators who brought us the 1990s hit drama about five orphaned siblings, makes a more than adequate case for do-overs."
    • Party of Five made the right decision to avoid being overtly political: "In the first three episodes Freeform provided for review, no one ever refers to President Trump or even the kids being held in cages at the border," says Jen Chaney. "The series simply shows us what it looks like when parents are ripped away from their offspring — a wrenching scene in episode one depicts that very moment — and the long-term ramifications that can have, especially on the younger members of the Acosta family. It also captures the sense of uncertainty that hangs over Charlie and the rest of his siblings; depending on what the government decides to do, the protection provided by his DACA status could erode at any moment, making the family vulnerable to further separation."
    • Party of Five's portrayal of hot-button immigration issue feels painfully generic: "DACA, the now-threatened Obama-era program to grant amnesty to children brought to the country undocumented, is name-checked constantly without being fully explained, and  immigration law terms are thrown around, but none of it is grounded," says Kelly Lawler. "The four oldest  Acosta kids also feel more like stock personalities than well-formed characters, at least in the first three episodes made available for review. They are defined by their deportation plight, but don’t have much dimension beyond that. Lucia is a good girl who rebels in response to her parents' deportation, Emilio is the dashing artist and Valentina the too-cute little genius. But the circumstances surrounding the kids are often far more interesting than the characters."
    • Party of Five's story is older than the original: "There’s a greater focus on teen angst and rites of passage in Party of Five than overt social commentary, which can feel more groundbreaking and political than its real-life allusions," says Danette Chavez. "For the next 10 Wednesday nights, viewers will gather with a family that may or may not resemble their own, but is still relatable. The Acostas are caught up in a quagmire, but their lives mattered before zero-tolerance policy was implemented, and their lives will continue to matter as debates are held and changes made (or not). And as the season unfolds, the combination of this particular premise with this particular family becomes even more complementary, almost poetic. Brown kids (and Black and Indigenous kids) in this country are often made to grow up fast; they’re also, all too often, growing up in a world that doesn’t care as much about them. Headlines and tweets may make the Party of Five reboot seem timely, but it’s actually a story that predates its source material."
    • Party of Five creators think the original's fans will find something appealing in the Freeform version: “It’s our intention to make it different, and yet at the same time, there are moments almost like Easter eggs,” says co-creator Amy Lippman. “There’s a scene in the pilot that was a scene in the original Party of Five pilot 25 years ago. There’s enough for our fans of long ago to see echoes of the original series.”
    • Party of Five wanted to avoid having a strong political agenda: “We don’t want to go in with a strong political agenda, we just want to tell what (it) is like for these families,” says Lippman, adding: "As we began to see the political climate and stories like this on the front page of every newspaper, we began to realize that what we imagined as a family of orphan 25 years ago had transmogrified into a family of kids living without their parents."

    TOPICS: Party of Five (2020 series), Freeform, Amy Lippman, Chris Keyser, Party of Five (1994 series), Immigration and TV, Latinx TV