‘Party of Five’ 1×01 & 1×02 Review: Show Them Who We Are

There’s a moment in the “Pilot” of the Party of Five reboot where, as her parents are being escorted away to the buses that will take them to Mexico, away from their kids for good, Lucia, the middle child of the family, screams at the officials: “What’s the matter with this country?”

It feels not just like a valid question after watching the episode – and you know, the news – but a necessary one. A Party of Five reboot only makes sense within this context, because the show was always about family taking care of family – and the original already did the mourning type of story.

This is a different pain. A different anger. This isn’t about the injustice of the world, but at the injustice of a government, of policies, of people. Lucia is angry, and she has every right to be.

Her father, however, scolds her. “Lucia,” he says. “Dignity, mi hija. Show them who we are.”

It’s a common refrain, something that feels so latinx, and in many ways, so tied to a religion that most of us in the latinx community grew up with, that it’s hard to separate one from the other. “Be better than they are,” my abuelita would say, never specifying who they were. Everyone, I guess.

Lucia responds: “They don’t care who we are, papi. Don’t we understand that by now?” and that’s every kid responding to their parents. It’s me asking my grandma why I’m supposed to be better than people who would never do the same for me.

To which her father sentences: “Then we show ourselves.”

I could try to find other words, but this exchange exemplifies what this show is all about better than anything else I could have come up with. The exchange also goes a long way towards showing why this Party of Five is so important, why the message it’s trying to send is one that needs to be sent, again and again. We are all connected, in the big ways and in the small ones. It’s as easy for some to forget that as it is for some of us to make it our motto. But the world will remain what it is – a shell of what it could be, till we can all find that middle ground.

A commonality.

So come with me on this journey, one that is certain to have many tears, but mostly the good ones. The ones that are about understanding, about caring, about feeling. The ones I, for one, will never say no to. Let us talk “Pilot” and “Margin of Error”:

A BETTER LIFE?

PARTY OF FIVE – “Margin of Error” (Freeform/Gilles Mingasson) ELLE PARIS LEGASPI, BRANDON LARRACUENTE, NIKO GUARDADO, EMILY TOSTA

The most striking thing about the “Pilot” for me, is that scene. Of course, there are multiple moments where it feels like we should be raging about the injustice of it all, and also just …taking these kids and holding them close. Sure, they’re all very defined individuals, with their own personalities, but that doesn’t mean we want to protect them any less. If anything, it means we want to protect them more, because they are actual people to us, not just stereotypes.

And that’s even before they get to say goodbye to their parents.

Now, since Freeform had released this particular scene before, I’d already seen it multiple times, and figured I could, you know, get through it. Wrong. It’s even more heart wrenching on second (third, fourth …) watch. Because the pain of these kids that are not just losing their parents, but being forced to grow up in an instant, is palpable. But so is the pain in the parents’ faces, and the guilt.

I often wondered how this would work, before watching these episodes. I thought: But why would the parents leave the baby? That makes no sense. And yet, watching them talk about it, watching it all unfold, I have to say …it tracks, even for someone that doesn’t have kids, and someone who has never been in their exact position.

You want the best for your kids – the absolute best. And even though they’re going through the worst, they also have faith. Faith in the family they raised, faith in their kids, and in many ways, faith in the world at large. Is it ideal? No. Not even close. But it still feels, to the parents, like the best thing to do, and that means their misgivings, their worries and even their dreams …they become secondary.

That’s what parents do, after all.

I’M RESPONSIBLE NOW

PARTY OF FIVE – “Pilot” –  (Freeform/Jonathan Wenk) BRANDON LARRACUENTE

This reboot was always going to rise and fall depending on whether we could believe Emilio as a guy who loves his family, a guy who was raised to take care of his brothers and sisters, and yet a guy who has big dreams and is struggling with the idea of having to give up on everything to live the kind of life he never wanted to live …the one his parents worked so hard to ensure he didn’t have to live.

If the show works, it’s in great part because Brandon Larracuente is Emilio. His carefree face at the beginning of the “Pilot” is just as believable as the determination in his face at the end of that episode, and the weariness that pretty much carries him through “Margin of Error.” It isn’t an easy thing he’s doing, after all.

But it isn’t a choice, either. There is no other option. Not for a guy like Emilio. Not for the kid his parents raised. And that’s both a reflection of who this family is, and what the latinx community is, in general.

Of course, Emilio isn’t the whole show, and this wouldn’t work as well as it does if the whole family wasn’t perfectly cast, from the parents who we have, to this point, mostly seen as they were being taken away, or on a phone/tablet screen, to Beto and Lucia, without forgetting Valentina.

As I said before, these actors, these writers, have crafted characters that feel real, and that isn’t always easy when dealing with kids, especially kids put in a situation such as this one. Because there are good intentions, and then there’s just …the reality of having siblings. You can’t shy away from either, even in the bad times. Because life doesn’t stop. That’s the thing. It never, never stops.

Neither can you.

MARGIN OF ERROR

PARTY OF FIVE – “Pilot” –  (Freeform/Philippe Bosse) NIKO GUARDADO, EMILY TOSTA

My heart is still broken from Lucia’s realization that for her, for people like us, there’s no margin of error. We have to be perfect all the time, because the consequences of not being perfect are disastrous. And that’s what privilege is all about – or the lack of privilege, in this case. Some people are afforded the right to make mistakes, and others just …aren’t. Others can, sometimes, if they’re lucky, and do everything according to the rules set by the ones who get to decide, maybe, achieve something. Maybe.

And yet, Lucia, like many of us in her situation, can do nothing else but continue on. Yes, the deck is stacked against you. Yes, life is totally, completely unfair. But what’s the alternative? Call it quits? Give up? For Lucia, that’s unthinkable. She wasn’t raised like that. And even if she makes mistakes, she won’t abandon her brother, her family. Not while she can still try.

What does trying mean, though? It means reaching out to someone you feel can understand you, someone you can maybe also help out in return. It means promising to help in a situation you’ve never wanted to help before. And maybe, maybe, it means allowing yourself to believe that things can get better.

But mostly, it means believing in the power of family to survive, no matter what.

Things I think I think:

  • Beto failing Spanish is A+. The language is, in many ways, part of the identity, and yet in so many ways, it shouldn’t be. To acclimate, many kids stopped speaking Spanish, many parents stopped teaching it to their kids. That doesn’t make Beto, or anyone, less latinx.
  • It says a lot about who the dad is that his first thought was about his workers.
  • “Heartbreak is anything but uncommon.”
  • And yet, no one does anything. The system is setup to create more heartbreak.
  • Beto and Val are the absolute softest. I thought Beto was going to be my least favorite, but he’s the one I most want to reach out and hug – and I want to reach out and hug them all.
  • Lucia vs. the church felt so real not just to the latinx experience, but to the teenager experience.
  • “A change in what this country believes in,” indeed, padre.
  • Emilio sleeping with the girl his brother has a crush on is going to be a MESS.
  • “I lost you, didn’t I?”
  • Am I the only one who thinks that felt like a bit more than friendship?
  • Has anyone considered Beto might be dyslexic or something?
  • THE MOM WAS SAVING THAT MONEY FOR EMILIO, KILL ME NOW.
  • As much as I hate the teacher’s speech, it happens so often that I’m glad they didn’t just ignore it. The whole “good immigrant vs bad immigrant” thing is one of the many ways the system oppresses us.
  • “Most people don’t understand that where you end up isn’t about you.”
  • God, this show is going to make me cry every week, right?

Agree? Disagree? What did you think of “Pilot” and “Margin of Error”? Share with us in the comments below!

Party of Five airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Freeform.

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