A new ‘Party of Five’ capably tells the story of a family facing the immigration crackdown

Hank Stuever

THE WASHINGTON POST – Viewers have earned the right to be picky – and even disdainful – when it comes to the steady excess of TV reboots, resurrections and revivals. Not only do such shows feed a troubling nostalgia addiction in our popular culture, they prevent progress and true innovation. For every reboot that crowds the schedule, an original idea is lost at sea.

Freeform’s capable and compelling rendition of Party of Five, from the same creators who brought us the 1990s hit drama about five orphaned siblings, makes a more than adequate case for do-overs.

This “Party of Five” is about a Los Angeles family, the Acostas, whose lives are turned upside-down when Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raid Los Cantaritos, the casual Mexican restaurant owned by parents Javier (Bruno Bichir) and Gloria (Fernanda Urrejola).

Tipped off that ICE is on its way, Javier hustles his undocumented kitchen employees out the back door, never dreaming that the agents have come for him and Gloria instead. They’ve spent two decades building a family and a business, paying taxes and pledging their patriotism – yet, indeed, they themselves lack the necessary proof. They’re arrested and sent to a detention centre where they await a deportation hearing.

That’s an immediate, and topical, swerve from the original series, yet the result is tonally similar: The Acosta children – four siblings and a baby brother – are left to fend for themselves, juggling school, child care and restaurant management in one fell swoop while also trying to hire the best legal aid for their parents.

FROM LEFT: Valentina, Emilio, Rafael and Beto Acosta deal with the deportation of their parents in ‘Party of Five’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Oldest brother Emilio (Brandon Larracuente), is a striving musician with an increasingly jeopardised “dreamer” status; beyond that, he’s preoccupied with fronting his band, the Natural Disasters.

The remaining four Acosta siblings are natural-born citizens who are so Americanised that they never learned to speak much Spanish. Twins Lucia (Emily Tosta) and Beto (Niko Guardado) are high school juniors with opposite problems: She’s a gifted student straining against authority figures; he’s a happy-go-lucky jock in danger of flunking half his classes. Kid sister Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi) is the family genius, skipping grades in math but also the most visibly traumatised by what’s happened. Their baby brother, Rafael, is an adorable reminder of big change.

The echoes to the first series are apparent but not forced. Creators Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser have put great thought and empathy into telling the Acosta family’s story in all the ways that it would naturally differ from the Salinger days, using the opportunity to give American viewers a solid, up-close experience of how easily United States immigration policy can tear apart a good, law-abiding family. That in itself is an overdue idea for a TV drama.

But Lippman and Keyser have also retained the lived-in, comfortable pace of their earlier show, reminding viewers that this family’s daily dramas can be as ordinary as often they can be extraordinary. Their young actors ably convey the emotional instability of a devastated household, helped greatly by dialogue that sounds and feels authentic rather than oversweetened.

When Javier and Gloria’s appeal is denied by an immigration court judge and they are deported to Mexico, Lucia angrily argues with the officers taking her parents away.

“Dignity, mi hija,” Javier tells his daughter, from behind a chain-link fence. “Show them who we are.”

“They don’t care who we are, Papi,” Lucia says. “Don’t you see that by now?”

“We’ll show ourselves,” Javier replies.