The tear-jerking ’90s family drama gets a diverse, modern update, with a Latinx family struggling with deportation, DACA, and more.
The original Party of Five ran on Fox from 1994-2000 and was one of the television touchstones of its time. It gave us Neve Campbell! Matthew Fox! Jennifer Love Hewitt! And the rest! It even made it onto our radios (ask your parents, kids) with its very catchy theme song. The bittersweet adventures of an elder brother learning to raise his younger siblings after their parents’ deaths (No, not On Our Own), Party of Five covered grief, puberty, drug use, and abortion, all the prime time drama hits.
Freeform’s remake hits many of the expected beats from the original: five siblings, family-owned restaurant to manage in their parents’ absence, the romantic misadventures of the eldest brother. But in keeping with our current reality, rather than death, the family is separated by ICE. When the Acosta parents (Bruno Bichir and Fernanda Urrejola) are detained, eldest son Emilio (Brandon Larracuente) reluctantly steps up to take charge of his siblings: twins Lucia and Beto (Emily Tosta and Niko Guardado), kid genius Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi), and baby Rafael.
Things are at sixes and sevens fairly immediately, with Emilio MIA and leaving his lady friends to watch the baby, no one doing laundry, and no one buying groceries. After an attempt to overturn the court’s ruling ends in failure (and costs more than the children could afford), the Acosta parents are scheduled for deportation. A heart-wrenching goodbye ensues, where the parents decide to leave Rafael with his older siblings rather than take him to Mexico with them, and Emilio apologizes that he won’t be able to visit his parents in the future–as a DACA recipient, he might not be able to return if he left the United States.
The pilot balances legitimate tear-jerking scenes with the foundation of a workable, if not entirely happy, future. The siblings are working together to take care of Baby Rafa and Emilio moves home and takes over management at the restaurant, but the balance starts to crumble by the second episode and the hits just keep coming.
Emilio learns of at least one Problem at the Restaurant per episode, each one due to the negligence or naivete of their parents. By the third time he discovers something bad about the business that his parents had kept hidden from their children, the audience starts to wonder how the Acosta parents themselves managed to keep the restaurant running for 20 years. Emilio also begins a romance with Vanessa, the new restaurant hostess whom Beto apparently thinks he’s won as a prize because he hired her in the first place, causing tension between the brothers.
Lucia begins focusing her need to do something on Matthew (Garcia), a homeless runaway she meets at church and Valentina is losing sleep, having nightmares, and calling their mother every day for hours. Obviously, the family is going through hell and nothing will be as it was, but could something maybe go right? It’s realistic, but it’s tough to watch these kids up against the world, especially when they aren’t 100% together as a team yet.
Each episode builds out this family and their world a little more, and they’re a family worth visiting.
The Acosta family is in a strange limbo. Unlike the Salingers before them, their parents aren’t dead. They’re very much alive and still part of their children’s lives, but there isn’t yet a feasible “happy ending” that the family can hope for. It’s likely that the Acosta parents will never be able to come home. The show is mainly focused on the kids, but we get glimpses of what this new life is like for the parents: father Javier now works at someone else’s restaurant rather than running his own, and Gloria is unable to find work. They can’t truly parent their children, and they also can’t truly live their own lives, and everyone is suffering.
Luckily, as the story progresses, the show begins to establish the Acosta siblings as characters divorced from their ‘90s counterparts and from the broken people that they were in the pilot. Do they need to communicate better? Sure. Should Beto do his damn homework instead of moping around the restaurant? Yes. Can somebody please check on Valentina? Anyone? Thanks. The first three episodes are a little overpacked, a little clumsy with exposition, and no one is quite sure who they are yet. But each episode builds out this family and their world a little more, and they’re a family worth visiting.
Party of Five will premiere on Freeform on January 8, 2020.