Review: 'Party Of Five' Reboot

Dec 26, 2019
Originally published on December 26, 2019 3:58 am
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The 1990s-era TV drama "Party Of Five" has been reinvented for the age of President Trump. In the original show, five white kids become orphans when their parents are killed in a car crash. In this new version, Latino siblings are dealing with their parents being deported. The series debuts New Year's Day on Hulu. And NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans brought us this review.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As the first "Party Of Five" episode unfolds, viewers already know where this story's going.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

ELLE PARIS LEGASPI: (As Valentina Acosta) Mommy.

DEGGANS: But the moment when parents Javier and Gloria Acosta are pulled away from their children and put on a bus to Mexico...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Got to go. Got to go.

DEGGANS: ...That scene will melt your heart, especially when Javier tells his daughter Lucia to temper her anger.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

EMILY TOSTA: (As Lucia Acosta) What's the matter with this country?

BRUNO BICHIR: (As Javier Acosta) Lucia - dignity, mija. Show them who we are.

TOSTA: (As Lucia Acosta) They don't care who we are, Papi. Don't you understand that by now?

BICHIR: (As Javier Acosta) We'll show ourselves.

DEGGANS: This is advice the children are forced to follow time and again as their lives unravel after Javier and Gloria are deported. There's a family-owned restaurant to run, an infant brother to care for and school to attend, even as the system keeps piling on the injustice. Even when Lucia begs a teacher to help out the family by giving her brother a passing grade on a test that he failed, the teacher's response is less than sympathetic.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

TOSTA: (As Lucia Acosta) It'd be nice if someone could show Beto a little forgiveness.

ELIZA SHIN: (As Teacher) Some of us do things as they are supposed to be done. We come to this country legally. I'm sorry that what your parents did put you at risk even though it makes things worse for the rest of us who have to prove over and over again that we have the right to be here.

DEGGANS: Fans of the original series will recognize these new characters because each sibling is based on a character from the first show. Oldest brother Emilio, a musician and lady's man played by Brandon Larracuente, is a version of Matthew Fox's womanizing Charlie Salinger. Emily Tosta's rebellious Lucia Acosta recalls Neve Campbell's Julia, and so on.

This new "Party Of Five" focuses closely on a family caught in America's insanely dysfunctional immigration system. And I'll be honest. In this show, a lot of white folks don't come off looking so good. There's the surly ICE agent who arrests Javier and Gloria.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Well, things have changed, Mr. Acosta. I need to see your papers.

LEGASPI: (As Valentina Acosta) Mommy.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I'm not going to ask you again.

DEGGANS: There's the apologetic judge who declines to grant a hardship stay of the deportation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) It needs to be very uncommon and limited to truly exceptional situations. Heartbreak is anything but uncommon in these cases.

DEGGANS: And there's this nosy lady who assumes Emilio and Beto have a different relationship with their baby brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARTY OF FIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Which one of you does he belong to?

NIKO GUARDADO: (As Beto Acosta) Both of us.

BRANDON LARRACUENTE: (As Emilio Acosta) Both of us.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Well, now, how does that work, exactly? They just spin the sperm so you never really know?

LARRACUENTE: (As Emilio Acosta) No, we're not a couple.

GUARDADO: (As Beto Acosta) No, no, no. We're brothers.

DEGGANS: The stories can be predictable, and the family too often comes off as perpetual victims. Living in a nice house with a business, they're a middle-class family on the edge. It makes them more relatable, but it also feels a little inauthentic and sanitized. Don't expect a dissection of immigration policy. Donald Trump isn't even mentioned by name in early episodes. But we see the results of his crackdown on undocumented immigrants for this family, their co-workers and friends.

The young performers here are compelling. Their characters each react in a different way to a special kind of trauma. Their parents are gone, but not - always a phone or Skype call away, but never close enough to touch. At a time when the immigration debate still involves kids kept in cages, there is no better moment for America to see a series like this.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE")

CAMILA CABELLO: (Singing) Something's got to give. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.