Party of Five was a primetime soap opera that aired on the Fox Television Network from 1994-2000. And the series is now back in a reboot version to be carried by Disney Television’s Freeform cable channel. However, in addition to demonstrating that there really is nothing new under the sun in Entertainment Land, Party of Five 2020 also proves just how tone deaf television producers really are.
The original series told the story of the five Salinger children as they struggled to keep their family together after their parents were killed by a drunk driver in the first episode. This was groundbreaking stuff for Hollywood. From the 1950s to the 1980s, television executives saw their products as an escape from reality. Happy themes tended to predominate and the good guys generally triumphed (think The Love Boat and The A-Team). Any gritty realism that existed on TV screens was reserved for cop shows and war movies. Detailing the lives of five kids dealing with the permanent loss of their guardian-providers was something truly novel.
Each episode centered on the ways in which the Salinger kids had to step-up and accept the responsibilities inherent in running a family and managing their family’s restaurant. Sub-plots revolved around the ways in which the simultaneous loss of both parents represents an irrevocable end to one’s childhood.
This time around we get the story of the Acosta family. And it is accompanied by a clichéd account of the “difficulties” they face when their illegal alien parents are deported, and the kids are left in the U.S. to run the family’s Mexican eatery. According to the Washington Post the Acostas have “spent two decades building a family and a business, paying taxes and pledging their patriotism.” They feel really, really American. Nevertheless, they’re still tossed out of the U.S. because they can’t show that they are bureaucratically American.
As a matter of immigration reality, it’s an absurd premise. The right to remain in the U.S. is a political-legal one. It is conferred upon foreigners in accordance with American laws. And those laws were, in turn, voted into effect by U.S. citizens. Authorization to live and work in the U.S. isn’t something that foreign nationals “deserve” as some kind of reward for not breaking any more laws after they have thumbed their noses at our legal system by jumping the border and remaining here unlawfully. Implying that it is – as the Post and Disney do – shows a profound lack of respect for the fundamental premises upon which our civic life is constructed.
What’s even dafter, is the fact that Hollywood executives somehow think that Party of Five 2020 will evoke viewer empathy in the same manner as the original. The Salinger kids’ plight grabbed viewers because most children dread the idea of their parents’ sudden death. And everyone knows what it is like to permanently lose a loved one. In short, the original Party of Five allowed people to vicariously experience the emotions associated with a terrifying “What if?” with which we have all struggled.
The Acosta kids, on the other hand, haven’t suffered a permanent loss. In fact, the plot of Party of Five 2020 revolves heavily around the younger Acosta’s Skyping and calling their parents, who are alive and well in Mexico. If the young Acostas miss their parents badly enough, they can simply cross the border and be with them. The Salinger kids didn’t have that option.
And that brings us to the central failing of Party of Five 2020. Woke Hollywood elites may see an equivalence between deportation and death, but that kind of hyperbole doesn’t track with most law-abiding Americans. While typical viewers could see the Salinger kids as victims of cruel fate, they are more likely to see the Acosta’s as victims of an inconvenience brought on by their own lawbreaking.
Only time will tell. But, unlike its predecessor, which was a television innovation, Party of Five 2020 seems unlikely to make it beyond its first season.