‘Party of Five’ is a solid, relevant update on the ’90s original

Sunday, January 12, 2020 - 4:25pm

NOSELL

Wikimedia Commons

If a show tells the same story as the one that it rebooted, then one might rightly ask why reboot it at all. By now, 1994 was 26 years ago. It’s often not the case that what was relevant in 1994 still holds up in 2020. Thankfully, “Party of Five” left 1994 in the past and caught up with 2020 in a solid, if somewhat bland, reboot.

Instead of the white, middle class Salinger family, the reboot follows the lives of the five Acosta children, who are thrown into a furor after ICE shows up to their parents’ restaurant. While Javier (Bruno Bichir, “Che”) has papers for all his employees, he and his wife do not. Six weeks later, Javier and Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola, “Narcos: Mexico”) are being held at a detention center while the five kids struggle to maintain their home life. Beto (Niko Guardado, “The Goldbergs”) fights to keep the restaurant afloat, while previously-perfect Lucia (Emily Tosta, “The Resident”) lashes out in class. The eldest Acosta, Emilio (Brandon Larracuente, “13 Reasons Why”), tries to prioritize his aspiring music career over his family until he’s forced to move back home and look after his siblings. Despite Emilio’s best efforts — which amount to paying a top-notch immigration lawyer with money he didn’t really have to take his parents’ case — Javier and Gloria are deported back to Mexico, while the kids are left in America to fend for themselves.

In the 90s version of "Party of Five," five siblings attempted to hold their family together after they lose both their parents in a car crash.  The 2020 version holds a candle to the original. I believe it has some merit as its own entity. The show comes along in a wonderful era, helping usher in more TV that better reflects our diverse society. “Party of Five” joins the company of “Atlanta,” “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” plus plenty others, that attempt to present stories that are both diverse and introspective.

The show is more than politically relevant. In an age where immigrant children are being held at the border in cages, a show with a focus like that of “Party of Five” is needed, and perhaps even imperative. I think it’s important to understand that the Acostas are indeed victims of a broken system, yes, but they are not only victims. The parents are small-business owners, while their children are math-whizzes and musicians. I’m a bit worried the show will become so absorbed in its own calamities that it forgets the Acostas are people: ones whose experiences are not only their tragedies, but also their individualities. The Acotas’ experiences are deeply American. This should be expressed more explicitly.

On the bright side, the show is carried by strong pacing and a solid cast. While many writers might struggle with penning a precocious child, Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi, “Animal Kingdom”) is just the right amount of quippy — and, not to mention, at a 9th grade math level. Likewise, Lucia’s lashing out is believable and restrained. The pilot is fast-paced and efficient, with the parents being arrested by ICE and losing their court hearing all in the same episode. At times, the show might benefit from a calmer pacing, taking more time to give the characters scenes in which to reckon events instead of simply responding to them. But I must admire the way the show positions itself so quickly.

By no means is “Party of Five” bad. As far as reboots go, it’s on the stronger side. I cannot give it enough credit for its timely update as well. That being said, the pilot left a lot to be desired. There are strong bit and more than enough groundwork that could turn into something special. But its strengths don’t stop it from being more or less standard, well-produced television. Here’s to hoping “Party of Five” hits its stride soon.