It was, all things considered, absolutely dreadful television. On the other hand the constant cavalcade of regret and misfortune became oddly addictive. I'm not ashamed to admit I watched Party of Five. Indeed for a few seasons at the beginning I was completely addicted. It was the 1990s' most exceptional car-crash television, for a while even topping even the soap opera histrionics of Melrose Place.
How depressing were the lives of the Salingers? Really depressing. The sort of depressing that makes an EastEnders Christmas special seem like a Morecambe and Wise Christmas special. Here's a quick trip, in chronological order, down memory lane. Remember when:
- Their parents were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver?
- Their live-in nanny quit, forcing the older siblings to care for the young siblings?
- Charlie got conned in that real estate scam and lost $12,000?
- Little Claudia had to pawn her violin to help pay for the bills?
- Julia's ex-boyfriend needed help because his father was abusing him?
- Baby Owen nearly dies from influenza?
- The social worker turned up, and Charlie almost lost custody of Claudia, except Claudia was in the kitchen the whole time sulking because no one paid attention to her?
- The kids were forced to confront the man who killed their parents?
- They all thought Charlie is on drugs, but he was secretly going to night school to get a better job?
- Julia got conned into spending $800 on a fake fashion photo shoot?
Seriously, the most depressing family ever. You've never invite them to parties. Somehow this misery pornography ran for six seasons, and even gained a brief spin-off for Jennifer Love Hewitt. I do wonder, now that the series is 20 years old, quite what happened to Charlie, Bailey, Julia, Claudia and little learning-disabled Owen. Did Charlie's cancer come back? Did Julia finally find a non-appalling person to date? Is Bailey still in recovery or has he since died of liver failure? Wherever they are, and whatever they're doing, only two things seem certain. One: it's bound to be miserable. Two: Claudia is so, so ashamed of them.