By Gabby Rente
It seems whenever a new movie or T.V. show is announced these days, it is a reboot or remake of some sort, including shows like “Roswell,” “Charmed,” and “One Day at a Time.” Like many viewers, I’m also tired of the constant flow of commercials for reboots, but I did feel a small tug after seeing the trailer for Freeform’s “Party of Five.”
A reboot of the 1994 version that aired on Fox, this show involves the original creators, Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman, now joined by pilot co-writer Michal Zebede. Helmed by actors Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox, Neave Campbell, and Lacey Chabert, the original show follows the story of the five Salinger children continuing their lives after losing their parents in a car accident.
In the reboot, the family whose story gets told is the Acosta’s, a Mexican-immigrant family with five kids; musician and Casanova Emilio, 24 (Brandon Larracuente), sweet and boyish Beto, 16 (Niko Guardado), driven and dedicated Lucia, 16 (Emily Tosta), compassionate Valentina, 12 (Elle Paris Legaspi), and Rafael, 1, respectively.
The show’s conflict immediately starts during the pilot, when ICE raids the family’s restaurant and takes the parents, undocumented Javier and Gloria, into custody. Just as soon as they are introduced, they are gone, on a bus back to Mexico.
The reactions to the reboot have been all over the highway, from adoration from fans of the original show, to people saying the creators capitalized on immigration issues. Some negative reviewers on IMDb went as far to say that the show was supporting illegal activity and might as well say robbing banks is okay. In the end, IMDb gave the show a 5.3 out of 10 stars.
Several reviewers on IMDb questioned the show’s choice to focus on immigration issues as the main conflict, alluding to the show being a lazily researched, exploitive act upon real trauma. As someone of Cuban decent, I cannot critique how well the show capture’s Mexican culture, but I speak to insensitivities and how the show depicts a first-generation family.
The fast pace of the first episode is startling. The trailers made it seem like we’d get more action with the court scene. The only testimony we see is from Val, who tells the judge how her parents help her with her homework and ensure she has strong morals. This emotional testimony is not enough to save the parents. The next thing audiences see is the Acosta children visiting their parents at the facility before they are put on the bus.
If you are looking for a show that perfectly outlines the immigrant experience — a tall order — you won’t find it in “Party of Five.” The show too often exploits the fact that the children are victims, making for mushy, non-substantial dialogue.
Aside from the problems surrounding the show’s creation, I had trouble swallowing the predictability of the writing. There would be times when a character, old or new, walked into a room and I knew exactly what they would do. “Ah yes, they are a love interest. Yup, this conversation is going to end in a fight.” It was tiring to watch.
Then sometimes the characters would do something that would seem out of character.
In episode two, Beto asks Lucia to help him study for his physics test. Instead, she offers him a way to cheat, but when she fails to show up before the class to give him the answers, Beto gives a long soliloquy about how it’s important he passes the class so he can spend the summer helping out at the restaurant.
Then episode three happens, and Beto gets permission to use Uncle Louie’s leased convertible whenever he wants. Suddenly, he isn’t so worried about physics anymore.
Still, there are a few things I admired about the show.
In episode eight, when Emilio ponders what he should write songs about, he tells Natalia, the babysitter he hired to watch Rafa, that he doesn’t feel like he has the right to sing about the immigrant plight. His parents brought him to the United States as a baby and raised him to speak English “without an accent.” Emilio then realizes that the music he listens to was different from his parents’ music and that even all his friends and girlfriends have been white.
This realization is important, because it shows one of the sacrifices for the immigrant experience — loss of culture. When the children speak with their parents, they answer back in English. This isn’t for the audiences’ sake but rather to show that in order to “make it” in America, the Acostas had to give up a part of their culture in order to make it in a predominately white society.
One winning moment for me was when Lucia goes to ask Beto’s physics teacher to let him off easy for failing his test. Because she is also Hispanic, Lucia hopes that the teacher will understand their family’s plight. Instead, the teacher tells Lucia that her parents should have come legally instead of giving their community a bad name. Though this is one of the rare instances where the Acosta children hear people blaming their parents for their deportation, it shows the divide in the Hispanic community concerning illegal immigration which I find rarely gets addressed on television.
I also liked how the writers handled Valentina’s character, played by Elle Paris Legaspi, to show the consequences of a child separated from their parents. Val struggles throughout the first season learning to go on without a mother figure and tries desperately to be the girl who has that tight-knit family. At one point, she goes by the name “Amanda Davis,” the name of the girl her mother nannies back in Mexico.
The show did well in not leaning too much on the political aspect; Lucia’s involvement with a local activist group is the source of most of the season’s political tension, but it did not overwhelm the plot. Instead, the show looks at other public issues such as the social justice system alongside the education system. When Emilio isn’t worried about his siblings coping under new circumstances, he worries about the social worker filling out new reports regarding his ability to parent at the tender age of 24. I thought to myself, “Yes, this part is excellent storytelling.” But is it enough to carry the show into a second season?
Like I said before, “Party of Five” is not unique. The trend for reboots these days is to retell a story from a minority perspective in order to make the material relevant and edgy. It seems to be a cop-out to me. Remember the reboot of “Uncle Buck” on ABC in 2016? Of course you don’t.
Instead of making original content to tell diverse perspectives, Hollywood rehashes popular shows of the past, but it is not enough to fix the racial divide when it comes to representation. “One Day at a Time”is an example of this, and while I enjoy the show and Rita Moreno’s acting, I do wish there were more original shows with Cuban characters.
I think for “Party of Five” to continue, the marketing needs to change along with the writing. Instead of leaning so much into the fact that the Acosta’s are victims of deportation, future trailers should include what else the show has to offer. It is not a heroic message to show how families are victimized by ICE and Trump.
In fact, Trump was never mentioned in the show, and with much relief too. The blame for immigrational issues was put on the whole country, which is quite refreshing and more productive in my eyes.
Overall, I think if you enjoy teen dramas and want to feel a part of a family, then “Party of Five” is for you. While the show needs more structure in how it positions itself in the conversation of deportation, it definitely shows us how even in the toughest times, family is the most important key to survival.