Many TV reboots hinge on nostalgia, or the simple rush of seeing the familiar gang reunited.
Freeform’s Party of Five has a more ambitious goal. The reboot of the Fox drama that aired from 1994 to 2000 revolves around the issue of immigration and the current approach taken by the administration of Donald Trump.
“It’s a better story than the original,” executive producer and writer Amy Lippman, who also created the original show, said after a sneak preview of the pilot episode Saturday at the Tribeca TV Festival.
After periodically exploring a revival of the show over the years, she recalled, “Three years ago, we began to read stories about immigrant families that were going to be separated. It seemed as if the story that we told about kids living on their own in the wake of their parents’ sudden absence was a story that was playing out in newspapers everywhere. … It’s very timely and there’s an urgency to it.”
Instead of the car crash that took the lives of the parents in the original show, leaving their five children to cope and survive, the Freeform version has the undocumented parents deported to Mexico. Four of the children (one is a one-year-old baby when the show begins) are played by Brandon Larracuente, Niko Guardado, Emily Tosta and Elle Paris Legaspi.
In the first version, Lippman said, “Six years out after your parents die, if you are still sort of huddled around the kitchen counter heaving with sobs, something is wrong with you. You need to metabolize that loss. With this version of it … the fact that the parents are still there, but not present, has a sort of engine to it that we didn’t have in the original.”
Freeform just announced the reboot will premiere January 8, around the time that DACA will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court. Lippman, co-creator Chris Keyser and the show’s team acknowledge that at times the show could be somewhat out of step with the latest events. But Michal Zebede, co-executive producer and writer, said regardless of how the current landscape evolves, the show’s emotional core will remain.
“The volatility is what we’re capturing,” she said. Two years after the reboot took shape, “the situation is so much worse. … Now, kids are not only being separated from their parents. They’re being held in detention centers and treated like livestock. Experts have likened the situation to torture facilities.”
Lippman said that Zebede told her when Trump was elected in 2016, she secured a passport from Costa Rica, her mother’s country of birth. “I said, ‘You’re an American citizen. Why would you get a passport?’ And Michal, and the other writers in the room echoed this, said, ‘I don’t feel safe. Even being a citizen, I don’t feel safe.'”
The pilot is careful never to mention the occupant of the White House or veer too far toward West Wing-style proselytizing. But its message is clear.
For Emily Tosta, who plays one of the teenage children in the show, her character’s experience wasn’t difficult to connect with. “I came here when I was 12 from the Dominican Republic,” she said. “It took a lot of struggle, it took a lot of acceptance from other people. … I could pull a lot from that.”
Lippman said the Acosta family isn’t a migrant family. The parents may be undocumented, but they run a viable restaurant business and have provided a solid middle-class upbringing for their kids.
“This looks like a family like your family,” she said. “We did it intentionally. … Part of America thinks these people are different. But they love their families the same way. That’s how we hope to bring people into the tent.”