“Party of Five” returns with a family of five left to fend for themselves, but this time, it’s not because the parents have died. Instead, the parents have been deported and the kids remain in sunny Southern California.
Created by Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman , the original “Party of Five” aired on Fox for six seasons beginning in the Fall of 1994 and ending in 2000. Centered on the second eldest, Bailey (Scott Wolf), the ensemble cast also featured Matthew Fox as the eldest Charlie, Neve Campbell as the eldest girl Julia and Lacey Chabert as Claudia. Several actors would play the youngest, baby brother Owen. Set in San Francisco, the five siblings become orphaned when a drunk driver kills their parents. The 24-year-old Charlie is the only sibling old enough to become their legal guardian, but he’s reluctant and not financially secure or emotionally stable. They take over the family’s restaurant with the 16-year-old Bailey becoming the family caretaker.
Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman return with both and Rodrigo Garcia serving as executive producers. The current show was filmed in Santa Clarita (the third largest city in Los Angeles County) where the Acosta family own a restaurant. Javier Acosta (Bruno Bichir) and his wife Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola) are used to immigration raids on their restaurant and help their illegal workers flee before the feds can catch them, but they don’t expect that they themselves will be deported.
Their eldest son, Emilio (Brandon Larracuente), is a musician, hoping for a big break. Beto (Niko Guardado) ends up attempting to make sense of the restaurant management with the help of his twin Lucia (Emily Tosta), but they find the accounts aren’t in order. Emilio attempts to insure that his parents will get the best legal representation, but even that fails. The parents are deported and the kids are left with the legal debt.
In the pilot, Beto says he cannot speak Spanish; his parents didn’t teach him. Lippman explained that “the idea was that the parents were very intent on assimilating and that when they came to this country, Emilio, who Brandon plays, was a child and that was the lonely language they knew. So that’s why he is fluent.”
Within the cast, that kind of language barrier is also evident. Lippman noted that Guardado is Mexican American but doesn’t speak Spanish. In the family, two of the siblings speak Spanish and two do not, but she assured reporters that “we will see the parents speaking Spanish as well.”
In the original series, the five were orphaned, and Lippman said, “When we looked at the Salinger family in the 1990s, they were having an experience that ws really unique and it was their own and they didn’t have a lot of people who could relate to it. And I think one of the things that we’re doing with this go-round is it’s an experience that is not unique to them. It’s happening across the country. So there is a sense that they are not alone in their experience of having to raise themselves.”
Co-executive producer and writer Gabriel Llanas said, that the parents being alive is “obviously the biggest difference” between the two versions. “There’s a constant concern about what the parents are gointo think, how do they involve them, what decisions can they involve them in,” and the parents are just a phone call away. “I do think that’s one of the interesting tensions of the show is that the parents are present and absent simultaneously.”
“This is a much better idea than the original because the things is, when you deal with the death of a parent, it becomes less immediate. It’s less urgent every year you go past that death. And what we’ve struggled to do in this series, and I hope we did it successfully, was that ceased to be the unifying idea of the show. It was just a show about a family.”
Lippman noted, that she didn’t realize the extent peopler are able to stay in touch in today’s world with Skype, texting and social media. More importantly, she began to understand the need for diversity in all aspects of a television series production. “Freeform said to me, ‘We really think you should get your staff together before you open a writers’ room.’ And I will say that my point of view was, I know the show, I did the original, I know what the story is. And there was some pushback from them, and we really began to tell the story once the room was full with diverse writers. And I don’t think I realized until I got into that room with people who had a very different life experience than my own, what value it was to have those voices in the room. So I would say it was a wake-up call for me to realize that I can tell these stories, but they actually from from a different place when people have lived them. So the way in which I think I was responsible to the story is that I hired people who had had this experience, a range of people.” She also said, “It’s important for our actors to look out and see themselves represented in every area of this production so we consulted. We have people who consult with us on immigration stories.”
Another less obvious difference in this version of “Party of Five” is the importance of music. Before the TCA showcase, the reporters were entertained by a local band during lunch and, of course, the eldest child is a musician.
I was not a great fan of the original “Party of Five,” but this version will give people something to talk about. We can be glad that the show runners did get the wake up call about diversity, too. Diversity matters not only on the screen, but in the writers room and on the set.