REVIEW: ‘Party of Five’ is an Endearing and Necessary Immigrant Story

Rating: 4 out of 4.

“An authentic and heartwarming update to the beloved 90’s sitcom”

Reboots, remakes, and spin-offs have plagued the landscape of film and television over the last decade. Although nostalgia TV has produced some successful series – like the remake of Queer Eye or the Grace and Frankie revival – the abundance of these throwback projects has created a culture that relies more on nostalgia than on original storytelling. Given the trend, it’s not hard to see Freeform’s Party of Five reboot as just another attempt to cash in on 90’s nostalgia. However, creators Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser have been hard-pressed not to revisit the property unless the story warranted revival. And with headlines of family separations becoming far too common, Lippman and Keyser found that the story was not just warranted but urgent. 

Party of Five debuted in 1994 and ran for six seasons on Fox, with the original series featuring the Salinger family. After a car crash claims the lives of their parents, the Salinger kids are left to fend for themselves. The five Salinger siblings include immature 20-something Charlie (Matthew Fox); Bailey (Scott Wolf), the sensitive caretaker; Julia (Neve Cambell), an intelligent teen who struggles taking up the maternal role; precocious 11-year-old Claudia (Lacey Chabert) and youngest Salinger, baby Owen. From 1994 to 2000, Party of Five dealt with serious issues (addiction, domestic violence, abortion) along with portraying the struggles of five kids growing up without parents. 

Image courtesy of Freeform

The 2020 reboot changes the name Salinger to Acosta, centering the story on a Mexican family in California. Rather than a car crash, Javier (Bruno Bichir) and Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola) Acosta are arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. 24 years prior, Javier and Gloria left Mexico with their then-infant son Emilio (Brandon Larracuente) in hopes of a better life. Since then they’ve started a successful restaurant and gave birth to four more children who have only known the U.S. as their home. Javier and Gloria are deported, and their kids are left to take care for themselves and each other. 

For the most part, the character traits from the original series are maintained with the five Acosta children. Eldest son Emilio is a wannabe musician who must put his life on hold to focus on running the family restaurant and raising his younger siblings. Then there’s twins Beto (Niko Guardado) and Lucia (Emily Tosta). Beto, though not academically inclined, is emotionally intelligent and a natural caregiver to his younger siblings. Unlike Beto, Lucia is a straight-A student who refuses the role of nurturer. Youngest sister Val (Elle Paris Legaspi) is a clever 12-year-old who struggles to cope without her parents. All four share the responsibility of caring for their baby brother Rafael. 

In conversations about immigration, the narrative is often taken away from marginalized people. Party of Five forces viewers to reckon with the human consequences of politics. The already tear-jerking scene of the Acosta children saying goodbye to their parents is made even more heart-breaking by the realization that Emilio’s DACA status (that protects him from deportation) prevents him from ever visiting his parents in Mexico. With this context, his teary-eyed “bye, Mami” hits especially hard. This show gives a face to the headlines and a voice to the families that have been separated. Party of Five demonstrates what minorities have always known: that there is no way to separate the political and the personal. 

Image courtesy of Freeform

Balancing the responsibility of guardianship and running the restaurant proves difficult for Emilio; a misstep with either could end with his siblings in foster care. Meanwhile, Beto and Lucia are forced to grow up faster than normal. Lucia struggles to forfeit her agency so Beto is left to care for Val, comforting her when she has nightmares and even buying her first bra. Though the stress of their situation may put them at odds with each other, the Acosta siblings come to each other’s aid and it’s in these intimate sibling moments where Party of Five soars. The stellar performances from the main actors make it hard not to fall in love with these kids. You become invested in their struggles, but you also celebrate their triumphs. There’s much that the Acostas struggles with – money, post-traumatic stress, normal sibling banter – but in between hardships they are allowed moments of joy. The realism is at times devastatingly heavy, but the genuine bond of these siblings is healing. This kind of care for the interior lives of these characters would not be possible without Latinx people behind the camera.  

Freeform’s Party of Five reboot is more than another nostalgia cash grab, it’s an important gateway into an experience we hear about in the news but seldom get to see. The original series focused on the specific situation of the Salinger family. The deportation narrative is a reality for many and a fear for many more living in the U.S. undocumented. Viewers are brought to empathize with Emilio, Beto, Lucia and Val through their highs and their lows, to understand the multifaceted experience of separated families. Party of Five is an endearing and necessary telling of an authentic Latinx story, a humanizing portrayal that invites an immigrant family into the homes of those who may be ignorant to the reality of their experience.

Party of Five airs every Wednesday on Freeform. 

Directed by: Rodrigo García, Eva Vives, Patricia Cardoso, Jenée LaMarque, Alonso Alvarez, James Larkin, Michael Medico, Edward Ornelas

Produced by: Amy Lippman, Christopher Keyser, François Sylvestre, Rodrigo García

Cast: Brandon Larracuente, Niko Guardado, Emily Tosta, Elle Paris Legaspi

Available on: Freeform, Hulu