Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Party of Five': From tragedy to triumph

Last Sunday, my 19-month run with Party of Five sadly came to an end. I finished the series finale, mercifully titled "All's Well...End's Well", and honestly felt like I was losing a part of myself. I know that sounds a bit strange, but Party of Five was no ordinary television drama. I in fact find it to be one of the most real television series in history. It shows that life isn't always pitch perfect and that we will run into troubles and sometimes we just can't avoid that.

As the series ended almost 14 years ago, as you can see, I got into it late. I had always heard things about this show called Party of Five that was a teen drama in the 90s, and starred Jennifer Love Hewitt when she was young. Because I love her, I was intrigued. Not really knowing what it was about, I found the first season on DVD on Amazon and began watching it in the summer of 2012. I probably finished the first season in less than two weeks. I was so intrigued by this show, I couldn't stop watching. I did some research and found it was more of a cult hit, and was actually slated for cancellation after its first season. It's really too bad it didn't get more mainstream attention. The first season alone deals with some very sensitive issues; five kids of different ages tragically lose their parents in a car crash with a drunk driver. All alone, they're all on the journey of self-discovery. Julia (Neve Campbell) is shy and wants to make new friends. An excellent example of peer pressure is shown when she is befriended by some popular girls and they throw parties at her house (costing her a friend she'd had forever, Libby.) Bailey (Scott Wolf) is desperate to break out of his shell and find a girlfriend. He finds one in Jill (Megan Ward), a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of girl who he loses his virginity to. He takes a walk on the wild side with her but eventually learns she is taking the speed drug. He tries to get her clean, but she tragically overdoses in the season finale and dies. More sadness, I know, but the series' portrayal of drug abuse was on the mark, in every possible way.

The second season introduces new characters and relationships. Sarah (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is crushing on Bailey, and while they begin dating, she has to help him realize that she isn't Jill and they can't have the same type of relationship. Later in the season, Sarah discovers she was adopted and meets her birth mother (Patricia Heaton). Julia, who had started dating childhood friend Justin (Michael Goorjian), starts to fall for Griffin (Jeremy London), Jill's brother, while Justin was away in Europe. He eventually dumps her, and Griffin is sent to boarding school for a stealing incident. I have to admit I did not like Griffin at all at the time. I saw him as an annoying, pointless character, and a screw-up who Julia shouldn't be with. Julia later loses her virginity to Justin while drunk at Charlie (Matthew Fox) and Kirsten's (Paula Devicq) wedding. They continue to have sex despite disapproval from Justin's parents, and Julia ends up pregnant. Scared about what to do, she ends up miscarrying. She visits Griffin in boarding school and tells him about the incident, and this is the first sign that Griffin will obviously be sticking around. This is the end of any relationship Julia and Justin had, but the pregnancy incident links them together and they remain close friends. What I liked about the teen pregnancy plot was that it was written as something like this would actually happen, not glamorized or anything. The season closes with Bailey giving up going away to college to save the family's restaurant, Salinger's. He decides to go to community college instead. Kirsten, who had left midseason after calling off her wedding to Charlie, returns and reunites with him.

The third season begins to deal with even more serious issues. Griffin returns in the beginning to win Julia's heart again, only to leave yet again soon after. At this point, I still didn't like Griffin, as he would always show up at the wrong time and throw Julia into a tailspin, and then flee. Bailey (still dating Sarah) starts community college and looks for an apartment close to it, finding one with Callie (Alexondra Lee). He becomes restless as Sarah claims she isn't ready for sex yet. Kirsten, having reunited with Charlie, finishes her dissertation to get her PhD. However, in the process, she is accused of plagiarism when a passage from her dissertation is identical to that in a research book. She is denied her PhD, which sends her into a crazy tailspin and then, deep depression. Her actions begin to worry Charlie, who thinks she may be physically ill. Her parents (who aren't fond of Charlie) come to town and eventually demand to take her home to Chicago with them. Kirsten has become so depressed she can't decide what she wants. Her parents take her, and refuse to let Charlie see or talk to her. This was one of the most devastating scenes in the entire series. Later on, he decides to move on with his life and sends the rest of her belongings to Chicago. Julia and Justin start thinking about college, and old friend Libby makes a return. Libby ends up committing suicide due to college pressure, devastating Julia even though they stopped being friends. Meanwhile, Bailey has joined the school wrestling team and become a heavy drinker. After Callie breaks up with her boyfriend, she and Bailey sleep together while drunk. Sarah discovers his infidelity and while initially trying to work past it, she dumps him. Bailey is shown to be drinking constantly. When he shows up drunk to brother Owen's kid birthday party, his family is alarmed. They ask a reluctant Sarah to help them get him sober, but he refuses help. The characters then learn that their father was secretly an alcoholic, with Claudia (Lacey Chabert) blaming him for Bailey's problem. After crashing his car with Sarah in it, he stands over her hospital bed and mutters the words, "Help me." I almost cried myself during that scene. Bailey begins to get sober with Sarah's help as Julia turns down a spot at Stanford University. Griffin returns yet again. He and Julia reunite as Justin asks her to go to Europe with him. Julia and Griffin decide to get married as the season closes.

There three words that best describe the fourth season: Complete, utter sadness. I can't even contemplate re-watching that season because I don't think my emotions could handle it. Bailey and Sarah, not dating, take positions as managers of an apartment building. Bailey begins dating a young single mother who lives above them, and while Sarah claims she is not jealous, she is clearly shown to be. Charlie falls ill suddenly, and is tragically diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Kirsten returns, revealing she got married while in Chicago to a doctor named Paul. Bailey takes over managing the family restaurant as Julia and Griffin begin a life together; Griffin opens a motorcycle repair shop and struggles to get by. He eventually tells Julia about his debts and he is later forced to sell the shop, and ends up cheating on Julia. Charlie beats cancer with support from everyone (including Kirsten), but Claudia is left feeling terribly neglected and thinks she needs serious help. Claudia's issues are addressed as Daphne (Jennifer Aspen) is introduced, a part-time stripper/entertainer who Charlie starts dating. By season's end, Bailey's new relationship ends as he as Sarah reunite, and Daphne reveals to Charlie that she is pregnant. I have to admit while this season was extremely compelling, the level of sadness was just too much to handle.

The fifth season address new issues. Julia and Griffin divorce as she decides to go back to school. There, she is befriended by roommate Maggie, who is dating a guy named Ned. Griffin asks to continue living in the shed at the family's house, which doesn't sit well with Charlie. Claudia decides to enroll in boarding school on the east coast, but finds herself very unhappy. Bailey decides to continue running the restaurant as Charlie helps Daphne through her pregnancy, but her repeated neglect and lack of caring for the child worries him. He decides to sue her for sole custody of the unborn child, but his lawyer advises him to get a job first, which he does as shop teacher at the local hospital. Daphne falls ill in her final trimester and her life is put on the line to save the baby, but they both end up surviving. She fears she won't be a good mother and eventually decides to leave their daughter Diana (after Charlie's mother) with him and move to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Julia and Ned fall for each other and eventually begin dating. Ned comes from a somewhat damaged familial background and is shown to have anger issues. At some point, he begins hitting Julia. Her family finds out about the abuse and he is eventually forced out of her life, with the help of Griffin. Claudia decides she doesn't like her boarding school and asks Griffin to come and get her, which he does, angering everyone else. One of the most compelling stories of season five was learning youngest child Owen has a learning disability, and Bailey decides he wants custody of him and takes Charlie to court. Charlie eventually realizes Bailey can provide more for him and he gives Owen to him. Kirsten and husband Paul eventually divorce after attempts to adopt a child, and she and Charlie reunite just as Daphne returns. The season closes with Sarah rejecting Bailey's marriage proposal after initially accepting it, and Kirsten and Charlie getting engaged again. The series' portrayal of family drama and domestic abuse was excellent and on the mark.

The sixth and final season, unfortunately, was clearly the downfall of the series. It became obvious they were starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for story. Early into the season, Sarah decides to go to New York City to search for her biological father. This would become her exit from Party of Five for her to launch her short-lived spin-off Time of Your Life. Unfortunately, Bailey and Sarah's long-running relationship comes to an end over a phone call, where Sarah says she is staying in New York indefinitely. While Bailey's reaction is shown, we aren't shown Sarah's side of the story. It really sucked that a romance that spanned over four seasons ended just like that, for a spin-off that was quickly cancelled. Bailey moves on with a British medical student named Holly, but they soon break up. Kirsten and Charlie finally get married and decide to have a child. Julia decides to write a book about what lead her to be in an abusive relationship (and has a brief fling with her middle-aged publisher, which was gross), but her book is rejected. Claudia's final year of high school is shown, and I have to admit, it just didn't work. The high school problems we experienced with Julia just weren't working with Claudia, especially when she was nearly raped by a drunk peer. Victor, Owen and Diana's nanny, is introduced, becoming the series' first gay character. Bailey starts drinking beer again, and despite thinking it wouldn't be a big deal, falls back into his old ways. He nearly gets into another drunken car accident, when he has an epiphany (leading to a "what if" episode showing what would've happened if the Salingers' parents hadn't died), and he goes to rehab. He decides he doesn't want to run the restaurant anymore, with old manager Joe taking over the position. He goes to work with Charlie, who had bought a furniture-making company. However, I think the series' lowest point was when they attempted to pair Griffin and Daphne, which quickly ended. After many fertility treatments, Kirsten is able to become pregnant. Justin returns and announces he is getting married, causing Julia to readdress her feelings for him despite she being in a relationship with a boy named Adam. Honestly, I did NOT see that coming. I expected Julia and Griffin to eventually reunite, because Julia and Justin always seemed like they would remain as close as friends can be. Justin gets married anyway, and Adam eventually leaves to join a commune in Mexico. As the season draws to a close, Claudia decides she wants to go to Julliard to practice violin music, Justin leaves his wife and reunites with Julia as she gets a job offer in Washington DC, and Bailey is accepted into business school in Pennsylvania. They realize they will all be leaving and while initially deciding against that, Charlie convinces them all to go. They later decide to sell their family home, which would give them all enough money to survive on. They spend their final night together in the house, and Party of Five ends with everybody (including Kirsten) discovering a height chart kept by their parents, as they fondly remember all that they've been through.

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