“Party of Five” Reboot is Much More Than Just a Nostalgic Retelling

Television audiences have been bombarded with a litany of reboots over the past several years as network and streaming services capitalize on our nation’s current nostalgia obsession. Fuller House, MacGyver, and Beverly Hills, 90210 are just a few of the recent rehashed shows that originally ran in the 1980’s and 90’s, and countless more are in the works. While some viewers welcome the comfort and familiarity that reboots bring, critics have decried the trend as stifling to creativity and devoid of fresh ideas. But a revival that premiered last night to rave reviews on the Freeform channel is offering a fresh take on a popular mid 90’s drama, centering the plot on American’s escalating immigration crises.

Party of Five initially aired on Fox for six seasons in the mid 90’s, and centered on a group of five siblings in San Francisco who were forced to navigate life together after their parents were killed in a car accident. The Salinger siblings of the original series struggled to balance school, dating, and child care, all while keeping the family restaurant afloat. In the updated version, Mexican immigrants Javier and Gloria Acosta are living in Los Angeles with their five children and enjoying the success of their Mexican restaurant. When officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid the restaurant, however, it is revealed that Javier and Gloria are undocumented immigrants. They are taken into ICE custody, leaving their five children to fend for themselves.

The premise of the rebooted Party of Five plays into one of the most divisive political issues facing our nation, and doesn’t shy away from the more complex aspects of the immigration debate. Javier and Gloria have achieved the American dream by building up a successful business, paying taxes, and contributing to their community, but their immigration status creates havoc for them and their children. Further complicating matters, the oldest Acosta sibling, Emilio, was brought to the U.S. illegally as an infant, and is now a so-called “dreamer,” shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The parallels between the reboot’s plot lines and the real-world immigration struggles happening every day across America were a conscious decision by the show’s creative team. And it was this ability to create a heart wrenching connection to reality that inspired the creators to relaunch the show.

“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,” explained Amy Lippman, who created both the original and rebooted Party of Five, in a recent interview with The New York Times. “Because it’s actually happening.” Michal Zebede, who is a co-executive producer on the show, asserted that the intense and topical subject matter sets it apart from other 90’s revivals whose only goal is to offer a slice of fun nostalgia to viewers. “This is an opportunity to really get into the perspective of a group of people in this country who are marginalized – and on many occasions villainized – and just show they are people, too,” she explained.

With such a sensitive and nuanced premise, the team behind the show made authenticity a top priority. Lippman, who is neither an immigrant nor Hispanic, ensured that the writer’s room was staffed with immigrants who can craft a genuine portrayal of the Acosta’s experience. Many of the cast members are of Mexican descent, and several have endured their own lengthy struggles with the legal immigration process.

Party of Five‘s commitment to verisimilitude is hampered by the looming shadow of the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the legality of DACA, which is expected to come during the show’s first season. It is a ruling that will impact the narrative of the fictional Acosta family, as well as the lives of hundreds of thousands of dreamers who are living in the United States. What’s at stake for them is far more serious than any television drama.

[See A new ‘Party of Five’ capably tells the story of a family facing the immigration crackdown by Hank Stuever, The Washington Post, 07.Jan.2020. Also see ‘Party of Five’ Makes the Personal Political by Marisa Mazria-Katz, The New York Times, 20.Dec.2019]


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