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‘Party of Five’ season 1 review – episode 3: ‘Long Distance’

(Courtesy of Tony Rivetti/Freeform)

"Long Distance"

Eva Vives

Jan. 15

By Umber Bhatti

Jan. 15, 2020 8:39 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 15 at 11:06 p.m.

Warning: spoilers ahead

Freeform’s “Party of Five” is attempting to be a real tear-jerker, but this week’s episode didn’t provide much heart.

The hourlong episode Wednesday felt more like an infomercial than a family drama, although still touching upon serious and emotional subjects related to undocumented immigrants. Though the Freeform show should be applauded for its realistic depictions of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, it could use a little more depth and tension. With its storyline of the parents being deported and such a devastating emotional toll hanging over the kids, the show could be exploring darker avenues if it wants to keep viewers hooked.

Instead, “Long Distance” opened up with Emilio (Brandon Larracuente) discovering that a longtime family friend, Uncle Louie, had been supposedly taking advantage of his parents by overcharging for a liquor license for the restaurant. This leads to an argument with Beto (Niko Guardado), who still considers Louie a part of the family and reminds his brother that the whole world isn’t against them. The argument feels formulaic, though Emilio’s perspective as the only DACA recipient of the children reveals that he is constantly worried about the instability of his status.

In an even worse position is Matthew (Garcia), Lucia’s (Emily Tosta) new friend who becomes paranoid about the United States government. Lucia sees him as a sort of pet project and tries to get him a job at the family restaurant. However, once they find out he has no papers not even a DACA status or driver’s license – Emilio refuses to hire him. Instead of applying for DACA status, Matthew decides to buy a Social Security number off a baby in front of the immigration office, somehow believing that is a better route than becoming a documented citizen.

[Related: TV review: ‘Party of Five’ provides timely insight into struggle of illegal immigrants in U.S.]

With politicians like President Donald Trump acting as context for the production, Matthew hits home when he argues that becoming a DACA recipient doesn’t offer much security, as it provides U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement an easier target. In this instance, Freeform provides an accurate portrayal of the implications that undocumented citizens are forced to consider in their lives, but even so, the scene was clunky and lacked any real emotional tension. Lasting only a couple of minutes, it never touched upon the repercussions of Matthew’s actions, taking out any danger the show could have explored.

Attempting to add some excitement to the show, the love triangle between Beto, Emilio and Vanessa (Amanda Arcuri) gets fleshed out, with Beto fuming from the sidelines as he’s clearly the odd one out.

While love triangles have often added a sense of excitement and engagement in television, Emilio already seems like a forgone conclusion in this Freeform production, undercutting any possible angst as he and Vanessa have a physical and emotional connection. With Beto, however, Vanessa is more of a mentor, helping him deal with family issues. There may be ample time for the show to spice things up between the three, but right now, the lackluster love triangle only drags the episode down.

[Related: ‘His Dark Materials’ season 1 recap – episode 8: ‘Betrayal’]

The episode manages to find its sweeter moments toward the end of the hour, packing a much-needed emotional punch when most of the kids have touching phone calls with their parents. After an earthquake strikes Mexico, the youngest, Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi), becomes more paranoid and scared about her parents’ safety. This leads Valentina to call her mother more than usual while latching onto Beto for support. In a heartbreaking move, Beto asks his mother to stop answering Valentina’s calls as often to help her adjust better at home.

The scene is crushing, but it is also another necessary heartache that many separated families go through. Between Beto, his mother and Valentina, the dialogue and acting feel authentic, providing a vulnerable account of a family in crisis struggling to find a new normal. The only reprieve from this episode’s emotional journey is in the smaller instances when the kids take a quick joyride in their uncle’s car or reminisce about happier times when their parents were home. In these moments, the children once again act as the foundation for the show with their connection demanding sympathy and dedication.

But minor details will only take a show so far, and “Party of Five” certainly has a ways to go if it intends to keep viewers hooked.

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