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We return to the journey and lives of the Salinger clan in Season 2 of Party of Five. Building on the set up from Season 1, this sophomore installment is just as good in how it deals with tough themes and explores relatable events. Be warned, spoilers will follow.

Charlie(Matthew Fox) and Kirsten(Paula Devicq) are now engaged after many hiccups in their relationship and thinks seem to be improving. Yet more upheaval and chaos throws a spanner in the works and a multitude of things stand in their way. It culminates in Charlie getting cold feet and callings off the wedding, despite the fact that they love each other. Bailey(Scott Wolf) is still struggling to come to terms with the death of Jill, despite the best efforts of buddy Will(Scott Grimes) to bring him out of his shell. At first he largely doesn’t notice sweet Sarah Reeves(Jennifer Love Hewitt), who has an obvious crush on him. But even when he begins to date her, it becomes clear that Bailey is wanting to escape his life that he sees as hopeless. Sarah also has her own struggles, but thankfully brings out some happiness in Bailey. Julia(Neve Campbell) experiences a crisis of the heart regarding her nice boyfriend Justin( Michael Goorjian)and the bad boy Griffin(Jeremy London). Justin breaks up with her after finding out about her tryst with Griffin, then things become more complex for her and Griffin. Julia doesn’t know how to deal with her emotions that are tangled to say the least. It appears that she finally gets a grip on her love life once and for all by reuniting with Justin. Then something really drastic happens and Julia is thrown into a massive tailspin. Claudia(Lacey Chabert), who has now entered junior high school, finds it difficult to adjust to being older and the pressures of puberty. Hanging out with a troublemaker at school, Claudia begins to rebel a lot. And baby Owen is finally starting nursery, while still needing the mature caring of his siblings in the place of parents. It’s another eventful journey for the Salinger’s as life poses a lot on them, but hopefully through unity they can survive.

Just like I predicted, Season 2 expands on what the debut season set up, finding firm footing in giving more attention to the individual characters, as well as the whole thing of family. The arcs of the characters have depth and honesty to them, tapping into themes of change, lying, love and even the return of their long lost grandfather. And issues faced with honest rendering and impactful force are sexual harassment, teenage pregnancy and commitment, showing the show dealing with complexity and intimacy in a way it knows already in this early stage to manage. Balanced among this is healthy doses of humour that enliven events, yet never get too over the top and take away from the moving stories at its heart. While I don’t think there is anyone who has gone through all of the issues mentioned in such a short space of time, Party of Five boasts a gravity and slices of realism to ground it in the most effective way. You do give a damn about these people and it isn’t a chore to watch the tribulations they must do battle with. Even if some of the stories don’t work as well as others, the overall impact and high quality rise it above just common teen drama into something more moving.

The episode of the wedding is a pretty effective one of highs and lows as Charlie and Kirsten attempt to salvage something but are ultimately at different ends of the spectrum. It’s a real heartbreaking episode as you know the two are meant to be together but are both unsure of what the future holds. Reconciliation could be on the cards, but if so it’s not going to be an easy ride for either party. Equally as wrenching is the episode of Julia discovering she’s pregnant and faced with a very difficult decision. We get to see how everyone reacts to this news and how it impacts on young Julia. Β Eventually settling on having an abortion, Julia then experiences a miscarriage that devastates her. As she has no female role model to confide in, she finds unlikely support in the form of the usually not so helpful Charlie. An honest and authentic atmosphere is present throughout this episode, highlighting the issues of teen pregnancy and abortion sensitively.

Scott Wolf rocks it playing the frustration and pain of Bailey, while imbuing a charm and energy that could be the characters saving grace. Once more, Wolf allows Bailey to be troubled, but not so much as we can’t relate to him on a personal level. Matthew Fox impresses again as Charlie; whose coping mechanism of pushing those he loves away makes for drama. scared that his while life has been planned our for him already and wanting escape is rendered excellently by Fox. Neve Campbell hits the right notes with an emotion driven performance as mixed up Julia. You genuinely buy into her turmoil and gamut of unfortunately difficult events she encounters. Campbell nails the intelligence of Julia, but like most people, the pangs of confusion, guilt and unfortunate turbulence are all evoked in her more than capable hands for us to see.Β Lacey Chabert mixes childlike innocence with playful maturity as Claudia, whose finding out that growing up and all it entails is rough business. Jennifer Love Hewitt joins the cast as the sensitive Sarah, who provides a love interest for Bailey. Possessing an adorable smile and a gentleness, Hewitt is touching and charming in equal measure. She immediately gels with the other members of the cast and slots in nicely as a kind-hearted girl. The main chemistry between the main cast is as splendid as the first season, boasting a deep believability that these people are related. Paula Devicq steps up as Kirsten. I mentioned in my last review that she was a tad wooden last season, but she really shakes at off here with a very good performance. She’s got a sensitive depth and emotive ability that is on full display and shows Kirsten becoming more conflicted over her feelings with Charlie that are frequently challenged and come to a dramatic head. Good support and humour is glimpsed with Scott Grimes returning as loyal best friend Will. Michael Goorjian and Jeremy London provide the two very different love interests for Julia; the sarcastic Justin and rebellious Griffin.

Another impressive season of Party of Five, this second part is an emotionally invested and finely tuned triumph, benefiting from the fine cast and writing.