Debuting Fox teen series “Party of Five,” about five orphaned brothers and sisters struggling to remain a family, may be, in trade lingo, “soft drama.” But forget that. It’s promising television drama that arrives as youthful relief from TV’s hormonal gulch.
In this pilot episode, creators and exec producers Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman take a subject fraught with sentimentality — bereft orphans, of all things — and proceed to fill the screen with unexpected doses of reality and candor.
Set in San Francisco, the plot is wisely centered on adolescents attempting to make it on their own. In fact, one of them is past the orphan stage — a 24 -year-old brother (Matthew Fox) and sudden legal guardian compelled to take responsibility for which he’s ill-equipped.
Some weeks after their parents’ (offscreen) death in a car accident, the kids are all still living in their folks’ big old cozy house and fighting to remain a unit, pay the bills, go to school and, not least of all, care for the youngest Salinger sibling, 11-month-old Owen.
Goal No. 1 is to keep the social workers at bay. Picking up most of the slack is the second-oldest brother (the appealing Scott Wolf, a kind of young Tom Cruise), who essentially anchors the ensemble cast.
Other siblings, none of them cliche teenagers, are a 15-year-old sister (Neve Campbell) entering womanhood and getting painfully dumped after a one-night stand and an 11-year-old talented violinist (Lacey Chabert) who even pawns her violin to help bolster depleted family funds.
Director Richard Pearce turns ordinary dilemmas into the stuff of drama that should draw adult viewers, not merely teenagers.