“I don’t think I realized until I got into that [writers’] room with people who had a very different life expeience than my own what value it was to have [that],” Lippman said during the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel Friday. “I can tell these stories, but they actually come from a different place when they come from people who have lived them.”
The new version of “Party of Five,” which comes 20 years after the original went off the air, centers on the Acosta family of five siblings who are thrust into raising themselves and each other when their parents are deported back to Mexico. In putting together the writers’ room as well as the crew on the show, Lippman said it became imperative to reflect back to the actors voices and faces that resembled their own. A story of deportation may not be Lippman’s own personal story, she shared, but the immigration story is everyone’s, and she felt a responsibility to get it right.
In the original version of “Party of Five,” the Salinger siblings were left on their own after their parents were killed. But, Lippman noted, “when you deal with the death of parents, it’s less urgent every year you go past that death.” Over the course of the original run, she shared it was a struggle to continue to keep that theme prevalent and eventually it “ceased to be the unifying idea of the show,” turning it into a drama “just about a family.”
“This is a much better idea than the original,” she said of the Freeform reboot. “When we looked at the Salinger family in the 1990s, they were having an experience that was unique and their own and others couldn’t relate to it [This] is an experience that’s not unique to them: It’s happening across the country. … [We] have an opportunity to look at these kids as kids growing up and learning things about themselves in an extraordinary situation. I wish it was less extraordinary.”
While storylines revolve on everyday adolescent issues such as dating, school work, puberty and trying to juggle the desire to chase a dream with the necessity of being responsible, the immigration angle comes with its own set of conflict with which characters have to deal.
“It’s not just Caucasian people who have an attitude about people coming into the country. There are people here of Latinx backgrounds who also have issues about what it means to welcome a community of people who haven’t gotten into the country the way they did,” Lippman said. “We are trying not to pass judgement on this family and how they got here. We’re saying, ‘This happens. Let’s look at the fallout.'”
The first person who “really espouses some kind of opposition to what the family has done is a Mexican American,” she continued.
Additionally, Lippman noted, the children had no choice in the matter: In the show, the Acosta parents immigrated illegally into the United States with their eldest son who was just a small child at the time. That character, Emilio (Brandon Larracuente), is an adult when the show opens, but his younger siblings were born in the country and some of them don’t even speak Spanish.
“The idea was that the parents were very intent on assimiliating,” Lippman said of the latter story point.
Where the two shows do share similarities, though, is in the Salinger and Acosta siblings. Each version of the show has five children, with the eldest being the “least responsible” who “doesn’t want to be there; he wants to have a life outside the family,” all the way down to the youngest girl in the family. “Claudia was the smartest one,” Lippman said of the original, “and I think it’s safe to say that Elle [Paris Legaspi] is the smartest one of these actors — on- and off-screen.”
“Party of Five” airs Wednesdays on Freeform.