Series creators Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman addressed why they chose to reimagine their beloved family drama as a modern-day immigration tale, which Freeform greenlit Monday with a 10-episode order, and not a straight revival with members of the original cast. The new series centers on the Acosta siblings as they navigate daily life struggles to survive as a family unit after their parents are suddenly deported to Mexico, a departure from the original, which centered on five siblings in the aftermath of their parents' deaths.
"Chris and I had lots of opportunities to revisit the story and I think we waited until there was a reason to do it," Lippman told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour. "As we began to see what the political climate of the world was these days and we began to see stories like this on the front page of every newspaper, we began to realize that what we had imagined, which was a story of orphans 25 years ago, had transmogrified to families of kids who are living without their parents in a very real way."
Lippman explained that they had no interest in doing a straight revival "to capitalize" on the current trend of revisiting familiar worlds and characters they had seen before. Instead, they had a desire to explore a new family's struggles in a politically-driven story with parents that remain deeply ingrained in the DNA of the show.
"We looked at what was going on in the news and said, ‘This is a story that weaves the Party of Five characters in a similar kind of situation but it has the advantage of two things. One, it’s real. The other is, when we did the original Party of Five, those dead parents stayed dead for six years," Lippman said. "One of the things that excites us about doing the show now is the parents are a factor in it. They are not present but they are dealing with issues of how do we try to parent our kids from a distance? How do the kids deal with social services? How is their footprint in the community changed by this? It’s my intention to make it different and yet, at the same time, there are Easter eggs -- there's a scene in the pilot that is a scene in the Party of Five pilot 25 years ago that was changed slightly. There is enough for our fans of long ago to see echoes of the original series."
When asked whether there are additional elements of the original Party of Five seriesin the new iteration, outside of the title and the premise, Lippman explained that they are keeping the Acosta siblings similar to the makeup of the Salinger siblings.
"We made a decision very early on to look at the way a family breaks down. Along the way, we made decisions in the original that we’re bringing to this iteration of it. We took the oldest brother and made him the least responsible. We took the second oldest boy and made him the most maternal. We took the youngest and made her the smartest. We did it very deliberately many years ago and it helped stories flow out of that," Lippman said.
"I think you’ll feel a resonance. There is enough for our original fans to recognize the show in it," she added. "We’re not interested in doing the same thing again. We had many opportunities to do that, just to tell a story about five orphans again; we did it and I think we did it pretty well. This look at that situation is, in many ways, much more compelling because it’s changing. It’s not a fixed situation. We’re going to lay it out and hope there’s enough for people who saw it before to enjoy it. If we don’t get any of that audience and it’s just a compelling about these kids, that’s worthwhile too. It’s a lot to ask people to come back after many decades to a show they loved."
Keyser added that the new series focuses on "grief in a slightly different way," pointing to the Acosta parents not being "gone forever."
"The other thing Party of Five is about is talking about what it means for a group of kids, who at the point of their lives, want to be thinking about themselves, end up having to think about each other," Keyser said, adding that the modern-day setting and the distinct landscape of the world creates new problems to explore. "It’s different because they come from a different culture and their approach to how they do those things may vary, but we’ll explore those things."
"The relationship between these kids and the tragedy that happens to them is present and ongoing and changing. Emilio is different from Charlie," he said, comparing the eldest Acosta sibling to the oldest Salinger. "Charlie had to deal with taking over his father’s life in a world in which he was, apart from the fact that he had that responsibility, more or less secure in knowing who he was. Emilio is a DACA kid; he doesn’t know if he’s going to stay or not. The fact that he is a DACA kid and the fact that the world may change tomorrow is integrally part of the story."
"Just as this version of the show is more dynamic in the sense that what’s going to happen tomorrow, the history of this country and the political decisions this country makes has everything to do with what happens to these kids just as that changes and their attitude to this country, what their responsibility is, their education [changes]," Keyser continued. "The show is going to be able to change over time. It does not stay in one place."