3 our of 4 stars
Tonight’s wedding episode of “Party of Five” is a must-see for fans of this struggling Fox series. While TV nuptials generally are ploys to boost sagging ratings, this episode stands out for the way it handles the complex relationship between Charlie Salinger (Matthew Fox) and Kirsten Bennett (Paula Devicq).
At the beginning of the couple’s courtship during the debut season last year, some viewers undoubtedly questioned what Kirsten saw in Charlie (outside of his good looks). She is a Ph.D. candidate who is kind, loving and faithful. He is a college dropout who struggles to maintain his fidelity and is bitter about the personal and professional sacrifices he had to make for the sake of his orphaned brothers and sisters. Over the year, the two overcame a life-threatening illness that left her unable to have children, a one-night stand he had with an old girlfriend, and a breakup.
It would be easy to villainize Charlie (this, after all, is the man who ended the pre-wedding episode by flipping a coin to see whether he would remain a bachelor) and canonize Kirsten, but the writers are too good to dismiss them as caricatures. As for Fox and Devicq, they’re both smart and convincing as a pair of 25-year-olds who, for their own reasons, are scared of pledging the rest of their lives to one person.
Though the writers have sexed up the show – giving Charlie’s 16-year-old sister Julia (Neve Campbell) a hot romance with Griffin (Jeremy London) and making sure that both Fox and Scott Wolf (who plays baby brother Bailey) spend a fair amount of time shirtless - they haven’t strayed from the premise that this is a show about a family of young adults growing up without parental guidance.
After a good number of episodes on Bailey’s romances, it’s a refreshing change to see Fox get his turn. An emotional actor, Fox nails the dilemma of a man forced into becoming a parent to four siblings before he himself has fully developed emotionally.
In the end, Charlie and Kirsten, Julia and ex-boyfriend Justin (Michael Goorjian), and Bailey and his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Jennifer Love Hewitt) each end up making decisions that alter the dynamics of their respective relationships – all for the better, even if they may not think it at the time.
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