The following contains light spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of “Party of Five,” “Mexico.”
The original “Party of Five” revolved around a group of white siblings forced to raise themselves after their parents are killed in a car crash. Nearly two decades later, Freeform’s reboot, set in Echo Park, follows the Acosta siblings as they cope with the ongoing effects of their parents being deported.
Now, in the final stretch of its first season, “Party of Five” is taking its story to Mexico.
The season’s penultimate episode, “Mexico,” explores the unraveling marriage between Javier and Gloria (played by Bruno Bichir and Fernanda Urrejola) as they make a new life in their homeland. In addition, the episode deals with the window dressing the spouses and the Acosta children — Lucia (Emily Tosta), Beto (Niko Guardado, Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi) and baby Rafa (twins Briana and Arianna Cardenas alternating in the role) — have put on to avoid a discordant reunion. Big bro and stand-in patriarch Emilio (Brandon Larracuente), meanwhile, is back home due to his DACA status.
The Times spoke with Amy Lippman, co-creator of the original “Party of Five” and its current reboot, about what’s in store for next week’s 90-minute season finale, leaning into a politically timely issue and avoiding “trauma porn” in this immigrant narrative.
In the penultimate episode, we see the siblings, sans Emilio, in Mexico to visit their parents. What does this set up for the finale?
I started the year thinking it’d be really interesting, if for some reason Lucia is really lacking a mother and she goes by herself to Mexico. That was all I had at the beginning of the year — one kid going. And then, once we told the third-to-last episode where Valentina runs away, we realized: Why wouldn’t all of them go?
They all have issues they’re dealing with. It can be investigated once they’re reunited with their parents, and then, for me, I got very excited when I thought, “Well, what if we tell the story of what happened to the parents?” We haven’t seen the parents; we’ve no idea what their story is, and what happens if those kids arrived, and we find out those parents are on the verge of separating? Instead of your assumption that their struggle is identical, they are missing their children in identical ways, why not see what happens to a couple where there’s blame, where one is grieving in a way that the other isn’t, where one is trying to move on and the other can’t?
There’s this idea that if only we can be united all our problems will be over, and that’s not true. Even being reunited is not the answer to all their problems because things have changed for all of them over the course of the year. ... The season completely takes a turn with one line of dialogue, which is when they go and collect Valentina at the border and she says: “What happens now?” And Emilio says: “Well, now you keep going.”
I will say, without giving away what happens, we end the season in ways that the audience will not expect. The way we leave at the end of the season suggests a whole new story in the second season. Nothing will be the same as a result of the way we end the first season. Now, I never thought I’d do a cliffhanger, but it is a cliffhanger.
There’s a lot of thinking to be done about the second season. Everyone’s a little on edge because we don’t know what’s going to happen with the Writers Guild — whether there’s going to be a strike coming. But I’m thinking about it and I’m watching how people respond to the episodes.
What inspired this look into the marital strife that can result from these situations?
We made a decision not to see the parents — except fleetingly and only from the kids’ perspectives — for most of the season, because we wanted to focus on the immediate effects the deportation had on the kids. But it goes without saying that the stress of a situation like the Acostas’ isn’t felt only by the people left behind. And yet the focus isn’t generally on the people headed back to their homelands who have to start their lives all over again. It made sense to us that Gloria and Javier would deal with their predicament differently; Javier would try to remain forward-thinking and practical, but that Gloria would be consumed by grief, unable to make peace with the decision to leave their youngest child behind.
What did you find to be the challenge of this episode, story-wise?
We’ve taken all season to show the effects of the deportation on the kids — but here, in a single episode, we needed to dramatize what’s been going on with the parents down in Mexico for the past few months. It was challenging to figure out how to depict the unraveling of their relationship in a just few key scenes. I wanted the audience to understand the progression of Gloria’s grief and, at the same time, learn new things about the parents that even the children might not know. It surprised us to discover Gloria was pregnant with Emilio when she married, but it explains why her separation from her children feels like a kind of deja vu, having once before left her family behind to come with Javier to the United States.
There’s been a lot of conversation recently about who should be telling certain stories. And you’ve talked about how, at the beginning of this venture, it was important for you to staff the writers room with people that could speak to this experience, or have a connection to it, in a way that maybe you didn’t have. Talk about what you were feeling diving into this premise.
I would hate to think that the only things that I can write about as a person of a certain ethnicity is to use my own experience. If you sort of broaden that out, it means I have no authority to write about men, or I have no authority to write about Catholics, or I have no authority to write about the transgender community. I think if you say to a writer, “You can’t credibly tell a story about anyone except yourself,” I think we are limiting the stories that people can write. I think what’s important is that a writer, like myself, doesn’t claim any authority over anyone’s experience, and actually writes of another person’s experience in as informed a way as possible.
So for example, from the beginning, Chris [Keyser] and I, who created the show together, felt like we needed to have a point of view informed by someone who’s own experience sort of skewed closer to the experience of the Acostas. I ran a writers’ room where I felt that it was really important that any story we told was vetted by people who had a closer experience than I to the experience of the characters. I wouldn’t presume to say that I speak for a Latinx community. I feel like I should be allowed to imagine stories outside my own personal experience, as long as they are informed by people who really do have, like, ownership over a certain experience. And it’s really tricky. Over the course of the season, the conversations that we had in the room were so dynamic and informative and challenging. And what I really realized is that there is no one way to tell anyone’s story. And that speaks to not only the plight of the Acostas, but, for example, we have a transgender character on the show. And that story line is informed by consultants and members of the LGBTQ community.
I think what becomes the issue is, if you’re not writing from experience or a connection to it, are you doing the homework to tell it authentically versus relying on tropes or your limited idea of whatever it is.
From the beginning, before anything was written, we brought in a Latinx writer to help us with very first episode. It wasn’t like we only relied on the story that had been told before, that we transposed to a Latinx family. We knew it had to have qualities that were really unique to their circumstances, so that we just couldn’t rely on what we’ve done before. Every single episode was read by everyone in the room, we had consultants, we had endless conversations about them. It was really important to me that people could look at the show and relate to it and that it be authentic.
I’m concerned that the takeaway of that conversation is that people cannot write experiences that are not their own. If that’s the takeaway, I think we’re going to limit people who are really well-intended and who want to explore experiences other than their own. I don’t want to be circumscribed in that way. I want to be able to imagine and create situations that are unfamiliar to me.
Immigration remains a polarizing issue in the U.S., particularly under the current administration. Do you view the show as a form of activism?
I don’t, actually. What was more interesting to do was just tell the story of a family that was in this situation — is that activism? I don’t know. I wasn’t looking to make huge pronouncements. I have a point of view about it. The show does have a point of view that families belong together. But I think if you could attribute any kind of activism to the show it’s that we are looking with empathy at a family that has been separated by the United States’ present immigration policy. That’s what we’re doing: We’re saying, “This is what it would be like.” People can watch the show and say, “That is the result of their own choices.” There are characters on the show that espouse that point of view, and they’re not villainous. In the second episode, we have a character who is herself Mexican American and she says, “You disadvantage us when you come to the country this way.” I think that is a point of view that people have.
I felt like my only obligation was to tell a story about what it might be like to have people who have looked at those situations and seen them on the front page of papers read the headlines and said, “That is something other than me; I don’t know what that would feel like; I don’t relate to that” — and then to actually say these are families like any other family. They are people who embrace the American dream. Some of their kids don’t speak Spanish. They run a business, they drive the cars. There was a deliberate choice to make them relatable to an American audience as a family living in Los Angeles and trying to get by. That was a way of allowing the audience to perhaps see their own experience reflected in the experience of a Latinx family that has to deal with deportation issues.
The original series, like many shows of that time, didn’t delve into politically timely issues. How was it to lean into making this a show that reflected this moment in time?
This is not to besmirch the original, but this [reboot] is a better idea for a show. The circumstances are changing constantly. On the original, it was moving, but the inciting incident that defined the family became more diffused over time. I’m in my mid-50s and my father died four years ago — it feels different four years out than it did the first six months following his death. But this premise presents an ongoing issue. For example, initially, I intended to end the season with Emilio dealing with his DACA status in some way. I intended to end the season completely differently than how it ends now. But because the Supreme Court is going to rule on DACA and I expect it to happen in the next few months, I pulled back from that story, because I thought, let’s revisit that story in a second season, when we can be really accurate, to whatever [that] Supreme Court ruling was.
What’s most interesting about writing the show is that there’s an urgency to the situation. There are stories that are being played out [in the news] that speak to exactly what this family is going through that [we] can incorporate into the show so that there’s a vitality and an urgency to the story that hadn’t existed in the original.
What’s the reason behind the decision not to directly mention President Trump or the current administration? Will that continue if there’s a Season 2?
To a certain extent, it was deliberate. But the truth is, when you look at the way of a family would deal with this, I think they’re dealing with the fallout of this administration’s decision and not the administration in and of itself. They are reacting to the policy of the country, particularly Lucia, who has become activated over the course of the season. ... It’s much more realistic to just deal with the fallout of that administration’s decision than take the administration to task, because we’re not doing the political show, we’re doing a family show. I don’t know what we’ll do down the line. I can’t imagine telling telling a story about DACA that doesn’t specifically reference whatever that Supreme Court decision is going to be. So it may be different in seasons to come.
What struck you about the challenge of capturing the anxiety and fears of the children, particularly Val?
We didn’t move off [Valentina’s] trauma. ... A child that age, who saw her parents taken away and visited them in what seemed to be a prison, and had to say goodbye to them, and is repeatedly traumatized by having to be parented from a distance, having to say goodbye to her parents over and over and over again — we thought, “You can’t ever move off that story.” She doesn’t get over that in 10 weeks of storytelling. Going to end the season, we thought the idea that she actually is driven to be reunited with them because she cannot accept the circumstances she’s dealing with felt like a way of saying, “The trauma doesn’t go away because you want the character to move on with it. The challenge is to find an interesting way to have that trauma maybe not be apparent to her siblings. Because they’re kids.
It makes sense that Emilio would see her drive to be reunited with her parents as an indication of his own failure, without understanding that it’s a trauma that she is really struggling to resolve in her own mind. Because it’s as if her parents died.
How do you do that while not making it ‘trauma porn’? Immigrant narratives often revolve around struggle and strife, and that’s obviously at play here. But how do you explore that while also creating a full picture of each of these characters?
It is not a show that is singular and if it was a series that was just about a 12-year-old girl in this situation, we’d run the risk of that. But what this series allows us to do is look at it through a prism. So there are lots of variations on this. For example, for Beto, he’s granted a certain kind of freedom he wouldn’t have if his parents were around. He’s suddenly engaged in what appears to be an adult relationship that would never have been sanctioned. We are looking at Lucia, who becomes politicized and actually begins to reevaluate what matters and where is the value in following the rules if something like this can happen to you even if you’re completely law-abiding. Even Emilio has a definition to his life that he didn’t have before.
We are telling multiple stories, and they are stories that, you know, just because your parents are deported doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love, and it doesn’t mean something funny can’t happen to you. If you are only looking at this experience through trauma, through a singular character who’s who’s really overwhelmed by the trauma of it, we wouldn’t have the license to tell a variety of stories. So, that’s what allows it to not be torture porn. We are telling the story from multiple points of view. And of everyone having a different reaction to it. Even the parents.
Party of Five infobox 3/4/20
‘Party of Five’
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)