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‘Party of Five’ Season One, Episode Three Recap: Amanda Arcuri is the New Jennifer Love Hewitt

At first glance, Party of Five’s third episode “Long Distance” seems like a boy’s affair. I mean, what even happens? Emilio tries to wrest control over the restaurant from his absent but somehow still ever-present dad. And Beto learns of crush Vanessa’s romance with Emilio and it sends him spiraling (think the first of many “you’re not my father”s). Meanwhile, the girls’ plots revolve around the boys. Lucia spends the episode trying to get her new friend hired at the restaurant (and thus butts heads with Emilio) while Val is using phone calls with her parents as a security blanket (a problem Beto solves with Vanessa’s support).

And while the boys put their screen time to good use, it was Amanda Arcuri’s performance as MA-in-psych student and hostess Vanessa that really got my attention. First, she just pops on the screen. She radiates this playful warmth, no matter what she does. Luckily, the show’s creator put this quality to good use with scenes like her trying to sneak out of the Acosta house, literally behind Beto’s back (her face is priceless) or just the simple butt-bump she gives Emilio in passing.

As Vanessa, she’s in a bit of an awkward position. Younger brother Beto hires her and while the two immediately strike up a rapport, it’s friendship from Vanessa’s side and crush-ville from Beto’s. Things only get more complicated when she returns the affections of the elder Acosta brother. When Beto finds out, he spends the episode trash-talking Emilio to Vanessa. It’s not a good look. For one, as any Bachelor-watcher can tell you, it’s counterproductive to talk about your rivals to your love interest. Second, Beto assumes Emilio’s pension for flings and hookups will be an automatic problem for Vanessa. Why does he assume the girl always wants something serious? Lastly, it’s just petty and immature.

Luckily for Beto, Vanessa is a class act. She treats his feelings kindly, never just dismissing him as a kid. But she’s also clear that her romantic feelings are for Emilio. Watching it, I kept waiting for her to cross the line and lead Beto on. That’d certainly create the most drama. But Party of Five doesn’t need or want that nonsense, thankfully. Besides the power dynamics are already rough, what with Emilio being her boss and all. Here’s hoping she graduates soon and gets a different gig so we don’t end up with a #MeToo situation.

We learned in the pilot that Vanessa’s academic focus on psychology helps her “understand people” and she puts that to good use this episode, figuring out what’s going on with Val and even proposing the (heart-wrenching) solution of curtailing parent-daughter phone time (watch the scene where mom Gloria implements this suggestion for a masterclass in self-sacrificing motherhood). But that doesn’t mean Vanessa always makes the right move. I cringed when she inserted herself in the conversation between Emilio and his dad. Who would do such a thing? Of course, it didn’t help Emilio’s cause and rightly earned her a “your mother and I will not allow it!” from the Acosta patriarch. That said, I remain firmly on Vanessa’s side, finding her perceptive, charming, and smart. 

If you’re Canada-oriented, you may recognize Arcuri from her Degrassi days as Lola Pacini. I hadn’t seen her before but that doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for the Argentian-Italian actress. Jennifer Love-Hewitt became a household name thanks to her role as the oldest brother’s girlfriend in the original Party of Five. Amanda Arcuri certainly matches her beauty, talent, and charisma. Imagine what’d it’d be like to grow up seeing a Latina as America’s sexy sweetheart. It’d be a game-changer. And that’s what I think this Party of Five reboot is all about, re-writing the rules of what’s normal, what’s American, and what’s desirable. In 2020, the show’s creators are betting on the (too-often-hidden) Latinx community to take the mantle. And I love it.

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