Going in, I thought I was too cool for the Party of Five reboot. It’s on the rebranded ABC Family aka Freefrom and the original had that after-school-special reputation. But long before the end of the pilot, I was sucked into the fate of the Acosta family, rooting for their happiness and rallying against the system that made it so hard for them.
Fox ordered the original Party of Five from showrunners Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser, thinking a show about five kids without parents would be fun. Being an orphan, though, turns out not to be such a great time (shocker). Lippman and Keyser are back with Latinx writers and co-executive producers to update the series for today, switching from a white family to a Latinx one, from San Francisco to LA.
This Party of Five edition is just as heartbreaking. Instead of losing their parents to a drunk driving accident, the kids are orphaned by their very own government when their parents are deported. The pilot sets up this new premise showing the Acosta parents being taken into custody (in front of two of their kids no less!) but fighting to stay. And as the show dramatizes, our immigration system sucks. It doesn’t matter that they hire the best immigration attorney in Los Angeles. It doesn’t matter that deporting their parents puts the four minor Acosta children at risk of entering the foster system. It doesn’t matter that their family restaurant, a thriving local business, might shutter its doors. They lose.
Watching the pilot, I was choking back tears of anger. It’s not just that as a Latina, I saw myself in this family. It’s that the humanity of each of the characters shone through, dramatizing just how unfair our world is. We meet the kids in turn, seeing in just a few moments how their world is upturned. We meet the oldest brother and band frontman Emilio, played by Brandon Larracuente, kissing a girl whose name he doesn’t know about to go on stage. Just TV minutes later, he’s trying to figure out how to take care of his siblings, thanks to his parents being in custody. By the end of the episode, he’s giving up his apartment to be a full-time parent. Likewise, Emily Tosta’s Lucia goes from good girl, class president to rebellious teen as she sees that all of her hard work doesn’t protect her family from catastrophe. And the same goes for the others. We all know the world isn’t fair but seeing these kids be hit over the head with that fact hurts.
Of course, it wasn’t all tragedy. The Acosta children have each other and if a Latinx family knows anything, it’s how to stick together. The errant Emilio comes back, stops leaving the baby with random hookups, and begins taking parenting seriously. Lucia and twin brother Beto (played by Niko Guardado) find solace in each other. While he might not be good at school like her, he has the nurturing thing down. There’s more than one type of smart and Beto’s emotional intelligence is about to be as useful as Lucia’s book smarts. In fact, the episode ends with a montage of each of the older children taking care of the baby, while a sweet, soft song plays in the background. It’s not until the final shot that you learn it’s really Emilio playing the song, singing in English and Spanish.
That’s the show’s metaphor for family — each person using their skills and making sacrifices to ensure everyone gets what they need. It’s beautiful and bound to contain surprises. Who would have guessed going in that “dumb jock” Beto would be the most intuitive parent of the bunch? Or that seventh grade Valentina would be the star of the show, radiating vulnerability and tenacity, thanks to a stand out performance by Elle Paris Legaspi? Of that maybe, just maybe the baby is crying not because he’s hungry or tired or wet but because he misses his parents?
With the premise set in the pilot, the new Party of Five’s Latinx point of view seems both natural and inspired. Of course, a show that centers around the importance of family should be Latinx, particularly a big, young family. And of course, Latinx families are as American as the Salingers, today and in the nineties. But also, it’s more important than ever that we make that case in living rooms across the nation. We may be the largest growing demographic but you wouldn’t know that from what you read in the news or hear our politicians say. It’s time we tell our stories in ways the center our humanity and value our experiences. Party of Five does just that so you can bet I’ll be tuning in.