If you were a child of the 90s, chances are you remember crying week after week watching Party of Five as the Salinger family struggled to keep it together amid constant turmoil and obstacles (both internal and external) threatening their family unit. The family of five children (hence the name) became orphans after their parents were killed by a drunk driver, and the eldest, Charlie, was forced to put his personal goals aside and become the legal guardians for his family, trying to make ends meet and take care of his four younger siblings. The show was emotional and raw, and followed the story of each family member as he or she dealt with very real adolescent and coming-of-age drama — from alcoholism to date rape to innocent teenage crushes to suicide — the Salingers had it rough by 1990s standards. They stuck together, they worked through their obstacles, and they looked 90s-cool while doing it, but for all intents and purposes, their life was sprinkled with their fair share of trauma and hurdles they had to navigate together.
The show made us (me) cry over and over again, and while it felt so emotional and all-consuming, it also felt like a fictional drama about a family of orphans dealing with loss and life. It wasn’t something that would ever happen to me. It was television. It wasn’t reality, as far as my naïve teenage self was concerned.
That was then. Today’s Party of Five is not fictional — it is real, and it is happening all around us.
Party of Five, Reimagined for 2020
While the original Party of Five was about a white family forced to raise themselves because of a drunk driver, today’s Party of Five is told through a more modern lens. This new series follows the story of the Acosta family, a Latino family living in the U.S., as the five children must take care of themselves and navigate life without their parents after they are deported back to Mexico. Many years ago the Acosta parents, Javier and Gloria, illegally crossed the border from Mexico and built a life for themselves in America, including a successful restaurant business and a loving family. They were upstanding citizens of the US in every way except on paper. And in the series pilot, they are deported, leaving their children to fend for themselves, with the eldest son Emilio forced to move back home and care for his younger siblings.
But unlike Charlie in the original series, Emilio’s situation is a bit more complicated and precarious. While his siblings are all American citizens, born in the U.S., Emilio came across the border with his parents when he was just a baby. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants known as DREAMers — people who came to the U.S. as children and were granted temporary protection and work permits under the Obama administration’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.
You may sense some similarities between the original series and the reboot, and that may be in part due to the parallel storylines and recurring themes of loss, family, and survival. It might also have to do with the fact that the original show creators and writers of the series are back for the reboot. This new iteration is the brainchild of original series creators Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser, who explain that this new story of a family facing adversity is more timely, relevant, and important than ever.
“When you read on the front page that kids are having to raise themselves because their parents are taken away from them, well that’s a reason to tell the story again,” said show creator Amy Lippman in a NY Times interview. “Because it’s actually happening.” “This is an opportunity to really get into the perspective of a group of people in this country that has been marginalized — and on many occasions villainized — and just show they are people, too,” said Michal Zebede, a co-executive producer and writer on the series who is of Panamanian and Costa Rican descent.
Tackling Family Separation On Screen
While the 1994 premiere of the original Party of Five was emotionally charged in its own way, it is safe to say that the reboot’s pilot episode delivers another level of sob-worthy storylines. In the show’s trailer we see the gut-wrenching moment that the Acosta parents are torn away from their children, forced to return to Mexico from a deportation center while their five hysterical children plead for their parents. It’s hard to watch. But we must watch it. Just as we must pay attention to what is happening around the country as families are torn apart and children are forcefully separated from their parents thanks to the inhumanity of President Trump’s immigration policy. Where the original Party of Five — much like other soap-opera-esque shows of its time such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place — stayed far away from politics, this new Party of Five is making politics personal and giving a voice and a face to families experiencing this story in real life.
And the Acosta family’s struggle is even more complicated than the loss experienced by the Salingers in the original show. While those five kids had to learn to live without their parents and mourn the loss of their presence, the Acostas still have their parents, but can’t be with them. They can FaceTime them and talk on the phone, but they cannot be together. These kids are forced to grow up fast, to learn to live on their own, to take care of themselves and each other, with their parents alive but forced to exist in another world. It’s arguably an even more painful reality that too many immigrant families are faced with today.
The show isn’t only a political commentary with the Acosta family in the center of the drama; it’s also a throwback to wholesome family TV shows chock full of teen drama and angst, love triangles, family conflict, and more.
In addition to ensuring that the series was simultaneously timely, accurate, and relatable, another notable challenge of creating this show was that the original creators, writers, and showrunners are not immigrants and are not Hispanic. To ensure they told authentic stories of the immigrant family experience they made the conscious decision to staff the writers’ room with talented writers who understand what it is like to be a Latino immigrant. They also cast gifted actors into the main roles who share the vision of the show, and who are of Latino descent. For them, it is a chance to change the narrative and bring front-page news stories into the homes of families and fans across the country.
The show is sure to deliver lots of sob-fests (we’re talking ugly cry face, you need a whole box of tissues to get through a single scene kind of crying), but at the end of the day it’s also an uplifting story about the strength of family, the ties that bind, and the love that brings us together.
You can tune in to Party of Five, which premieres on Freeform January 8th.