With the first season of Freeform’s Party of Five nearing its finale, how does the reboot stack up to the original?
Under the expansive Disney umbrella, we talk a lot about reboots. Whether it’s the speed bumps hit by Lizzie McGuire or the hope of the live-action Stitch being as cute as Baby Yoda. But there’s one reboot in the Disney fold that hasn’t received nearly as much love or attention as it should have: Freeform’s modern and timely take on Party of Five.
In the updated version of the ’90s teen and family drama, five siblings deal with the immeasurable loss of their parents. The original series found the Salinger parents dying in a tragic car accident while Freeform’s reboot tackles immigration as the Acosta parents are deported to Mexico during an I.C.E. raid. Both series force the central siblings to grow up on their own at lightning speed, but how well does the new iteration honor the original?
Given the urgent subject matter of the Party of Five reboot, it’s less about honoring the original with teases for long-time fans (though we wouldn’t be mad at former cast cameos) than it is about creating an important, meaningful story against a kindred, emotional backdrop. With the Acostas being separated from their parents by a border but still having access to them by technology (rather than losing them to a car accident like the Salingers), it is its own kind of unthinkably formative tragedy.
Regardless, it’s natural to hold reboots side by side to the original and play a game of spot the difference. When it comes to Party of Five, there are glaring parallels in the characterizations and thematic motivations of the Salinger’s Acosta counterparts yet obvious divergences in terms of the reboot’s Latinx representation and political positioning, making it a series worth rebooting.
Leading the cast as the de facto Charlie Salinger, Brandon Larracuente plays Emilio Acosta, the oldest sibling at 20-something. Like Charlie, who stalled his plans to finish his college degree to take over the family restaurant, Emilio ditches his “Milo” stage persona and leaves his band in order to parent his siblings and run the Mexican restaurant his father left behind. From the center-parted ’90s hair to the goatee, there’s little difference between Charlie and Emilio.
But beyond those obvious physical cues, Emilio’s stakes feel much higher. Charlie struggled with expectation versus desire, always going between what he needed to do and what he wanted to do — though he never really knew what he wanted, either. On the other hand, Emilio knows what he wants to do, but he falls into being a pillar for his family, even if his DACA status hangs over his head worse than any failed relationship (another thing he and Charlie have in common) or social worker.
In between the oldest and youngest Acostas are Beto (Niko Guardado) and Lucia (Emily Tosta), the equally angsty mirrors of Scott Wolf and Neve Campbell’s ultimate middle children Bailey and Julia Salinger. However, Beto (affectionately called “Bay,” a nod to Bailey’s nickname) and Lucia are twins, unlike the Salinger clan’s closest age pairing. Similarly to Bailey, Beto fills the quota for the happy-go-lucky yet “why me?” well-meaning heartthrob. He’s the underdog next door looking for his Sarah in the potentially wrong places.
However, his twin sister, Lucia, harnesses a confidence and determination that was often a challenge to attain for the more emotionally driven and self-involved Julia. Where Julia slammed doors and cried over boys, Lucia advocates for herself and others, helping her friend Matthew with his immigration status and personal life. She and Julia share a curiosity and tenacity that can be self-destructive, one of the most compelling aspects of both characters.
Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi) rounds out the family as a precocious dead ringer for Lacey Chabert’s persistent and opinionated-beyond-her-years Claudia Salinger. The violin prodigy was always hungry to learn new things about the world and set herself apart as her own person, two things that drive Valentina as she assumes an Americanized alias and becomes someone unshackled by her circumstances in her dance class. Still, Claudia wasn’t nearly as committed to being a pot-stirrer as Valentina, who made plans to run away to Mexico.
Each of these characters has had their worlds flipped upside down, and just like in the original, we watch how the paradigm shift affects the Acosta siblings differently. Although they’re missing the same thing and facing the same obstacle, the aftershocks shake up their lives with a unique perspective the others can’t imagine. Suddenly, they’re all makeshift parents to Rafael, the infant brother none of them previously viewed as their responsibility, while juggling their own slice of uncertainty.
On paper, both versions of Party of Five strike the same chords, and by chords, we do mean heartstrings. There are teachable moments aplenty, social issues galore, and inward-facing revelations that verge on maudlin. But Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser, the creators of the original and the reboot, know that walk too well to falter and bring back an ethos that had been few and far between on modern television.
Freeform’s Party of Five exists as a beacon of hope during a time where hope feels hopeless and deserves a chance to grow into the rightful successor to one of the ’90s’ strongest family dramas.
Party of Five airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on Freeform and is available to stream on Hulu.