Freeform’s ‘Party of Five’ Follows a Family Adjusting to a Reality All Too Real for Many

Party of Five,” the popular nineties drama about a twentysomething man raising his four younger siblings, gets a timely update with a new Freeform series of the same name. This reboot puts a human face on the deportation crisis in America, exploring the effects inhumane immigrant laws have on families, as well as universal issues facing teens.

This time, the Salinger family has been replaced with the Acostas, a Mexican-American family living in Los Angeles. While the parents died before the start of the original series, having been killed by a drunk driver, we get to see a glimpse of the Acostas’ happy life pre-tragedy, a happy family in which the parents celebrate their kids’ good grades and worry about their oldest son, Emilio (Brandon Larracuente), a struggling musician living on his own. Their lives get turned upside down one day when ICE arrives at the restaurant owned by dad Javier (Bruno Bichir) and mom Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola) and take the distraught couple away, traumatizing their children. While a scene like this and what ensues would have seemed melodramatic just a few years ago, it’s all too real today.

The first episode of the two-part premiere shows the family adjusting to what they hope will be a temporary situation Javier and Gloria are being held in a detention center. Emilio moves home but doesn’t completely give up his lifestyle, hoisting his baby brother, Rafa, off on one of his many girlfriends while he works on his music. 16-year-old Beto (Niko Guardado) neglects school to run the restaurant, while his twin Lucia (Emily Tosta), who up until now has been a star student, finds her own priorities shifting. As for the youngest sister, the precocious Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi), she is having sleep problems. 

Eventually, Emilio, himself a DACA kid, having crossed the border with his parents as a baby, makes the unilateral decision to take a large chunk of the family’s savings to pay for a lawyer. The Acostas’ legal ordeal culminates in a devastating courtroom scene, but the most emotional moment comes when the parents make the gut-wrenching decision to leave behind Rafa, an American citizen like Beto, Lucia and Val.

The second episode deals with the family adjusting to their new normal, with Emilio now the official head of the household. Although he’s now running the restaurant, he has yet to completely shed his old ways, engaging in a fling with one of his employees, a grad student named Vanessa (Amanda Arcuri). Beto also feels an attraction to the young woman, laying the groundwork for what is sure to be an interesting triangle.

As for Javier and Gloria, they’re still a presence in the household, utilizing FaceTime for regular check-ins with their children. Although they try to put on a brave face, there’s no masking the pain in their eyes.

The original “Party of Five” is memorable not only for launching the careers of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Neve Campbell, but also for the way it dealt with heavy issues such as substance abuse, cancer and domestic violence. This new series already has promise to impact culture, not only because it contains attractive young people like Larracuente, but in the way in tackles heavy issues in its first few episodes, not just the immigration crisis, but also religious faith, ethics, and the prejudices people like the Acostas face, not just from white people, but also from other Latinx immigrants, including a high school teacher, who feel resentment towards undocumented immigrants whom they believe makes them all look bad.

Party of Five” premieres Jan. 8 and airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform.