I was talking with my friend Jen at work the other day, and “Party of Five” came up. As it does. She was saying, “I think that was my first…” and couldn’t find the words but then did, and as it turns out, we both have very similar television histories, which makes sense that we have so much TV love in common now!
For all of my endless lists and words about television, I’ve written very little about “Party of Five,” yet that was my First Show, aside from sitcoms and “Degrassi.” It was when I knew even at 19, that the television landscape was changing for the better. Po5 begat the entire CW, basically. “My So-Called Life” was also airing at the same time but much to my and Hurl’s chagrin, I did not watch it at the time. In sociological retrospect, I think those two shows actually worked in tandem to lead in a huge wave of shows about teenage angst. Which as y’all know, is my favorite genre.
Anyway. I remember watching “Party of Five” in the spare room of my parents’ house. The room was on the third floor, and full of mysteries and coziness. It’s always exotic to shack up in a room that’s not your bedroom, when you’re young. And get this, I watched it on a teeny black and white TV! I knew I officially realized that I loved “Party of Five” when I actually battled the rabbit ears to get my show to come in, week after week.
Basically, “Party of Five” is the first show that I actually fell in love with. Yeah, I slept around with shows, and let us all bow our heads to “Just the Ten of Us,” but “Party of Five” was the first show where I felt like, whoa. I cared about those people. I thought about them when they weren’t around. Most of all, it was the first show that really made me think.
In one particular ep, Kirsten whom I loved (“Kirsten, you’re…here!” TM Dave), was talking to – I forget, actually. One of The Five, but not Charlie her boyfriend. She was being all maternal with Charlie’s kids he inherited out of the blue. And one of those kids was asking her what religion she was.
Kirsten gently explained that she was agnostic. I think the kid she was talking to was searching for hope, in the wake of the loss of the parents. That death didn’t mean an eternal separation. And Kirsten said that she didn’t know, follow a religion, have any answers. But that she believed in an overriding power that was good, and benevolent.
That there was hope, beyond this Earth.
I remember telling my boyfriend at the time, who was a Pentecostal Christian like me, how I really liked this show because it was so open-minded. He replied, albeit also gently, that maybe it was too open-minded.
I think it was then that I started questioning why Christians are taught to close their minds. I know that it’s to not let the devil in, but I also know that I spent my teenage years sheltered, shunning the world, and when I was forced to leave the loved cocoon of my Christian school, it was terrifying. Josh and I are (fittingly) rewatching “The O.C.,” and basically when I went to college, I felt like Marissa Cooper at Newport Union.
So I was looking for answers. “Party of Five” is the predecessor to my television obsession, because it was the first show that made me feel like South Shore Christian School did – safe. Cozy.
And constantly questioning authority, and the world at large. Maybe it was too open-minded. Maybe if I’d never been ushered into shows like this, I’d be much happier now. Married with kids, and full of faith. Which is all I ever actually wanted from this life.
But it’s not my life. And now I’m kind of agnostic. But I still hang onto the mustard seed. Yesterday I met someone at Josh’s work party who’d had some hard times, but lit up when he said he started going to church. He wasn’t young and he wasn’t dumb. I definitely disagree with the sentiment that believing in God is anti-intellectual.
But I will never regret having the experience in my parents’ third-floor room, where on a tiny TV, “Party of Five” opened my mind, and changed my life forever.