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We rejoin the Salinger siblings navigating through new challenges that life presents in Party of Five Season 4. It may not reach the heights of Season 3, but it still has its moments to treasure. Be warned, spoilers may well follow in my review of this fourth season of the dramatic show.

Bailey(Scott Wolf) is on the mend and getting back to himself after his crippling battle with alcohol last season. He has been supported by Sarah(Jennifer Love Hewitt), who has forgiven him for involving her in the near fatal car accident months back. But Sarah’s parents don’t see it that way, they file charges of DUI against Bailey. As the trial gets underway and seeing that everyone is willing to sacrifice things for his mistakes, Bailey accepts a plea bargain which leads to a suspended sentence for him. Yet even though he’s making amends, he still finds that the impact of his actions follows him around and won’t let go. Luckily, he does discover a job that also ties in with what will happen to Sarah. Sarah moves out from her parents, feeling that they have victimized Bailey unfairly. Finding out that life independent can be difficult, she finds a place where she enlists Bailey to help her be a manager to an apartment block. The two are now pursuing a platonic friendship as they become managers and maintenance to the tenants of the building. Around this time, Bailey meets Annie; one of the residents who is also a recovering alcoholic. Yet is Bailey ready to commit to a relationship just as his recovery is starting to go well? Charlie(Matthew Fox) is now properly head of the family, having grown up into the role he never really wanted. As the season starts, he is annoyed that he can’t find some romantic happiness. He also bumps into Kirsten(Paula Devicq), who is now remarried to a doctor and back on track following her depression. And though Charlie begins a brief relationship with someone else, he still carries a torch for her. This however takes a backseat as Charlie’s tiredness that he thinks is down to his overworking is diagnosed as Hodgkin’s Disease. he at first only confides in Kirsten. His anger and scared mind are laid bare as he undergoes treatment and the family rallies around, though it proves to be a strain. Julia(Neve Campbell) and Griffin(Jeremy London) are married, with Julia returning from travels to life as a wife. Yet while happy to be married to Griffin after all the struggles, she is still attempting to find her identity. She must also deal with the fact that she feels a bit disconnected from her family, having spent so much time with them yet wants to cut out on her own. This leads her to try new things, yet ultimately makes her get a little bit selfish. Griffin meanwhile discovers his new business is not a cakewalk as he finds a cash flow problem and makes the mistake of accepting a loan off a seemingly helpful man, who becomes something of a loan shark. This leads to money woes for the two, with Julia having to do what she can to provide and Griffin attempting to get them out if this hole. All of this puts a massive strain on their union. Claudia(Lacey Chabert) is now in high school and trying to fit in, and finding it a hard slog. She is tired of people treating her like a small child and wishes to be taken more seriously. Finding that she must grow up more herself, especially after her hopes of romance with a boy are dashed, Claudia still resentfully acts out to get her family’s attention and due to a feeling of loneliness. Can the family hold it together and weather the storm?

Coming off such a dark and engrossing last season, I think it was inevitable that Season 4 might not measure up, it still has plenty going for it. Though I found some of the stories lacked the pull of past , there is still something immensely watchable about Party of Five. The main stories that I didn’t appreciate or enjoy was the one of Bailey getting with Annie, whose many troubles only posed more or a burden for a recovering Bailey . For one, Bailey had already gone through hell and back with his alcoholism, so why did they have to include Annie? It isn’t that the story is bad, it’s just that alcoholism was dealt with so realistically and honestly in Season 3, that it feels a bit superfluous to use it again. Other little sub-plots are decent and sometimes diverting, yet some of them go nowhere and end up superfluous. I did like later on when Charlie starts a romance with Daphne, an uninhibited woman who works as a stripper. They are opposites, but I liked the unpredictable vibe they have. The saving grace here is the overall impact of Charlie’s illness that bears heaviest and most deeply on Season 4.

The Salinger family repeatedly drift apart and then come back into closeness, just like any family does. And while the individual stories have their moments, the subject of family and its many facets is still the successful force of Party of Five. It’s been the main selling point and chief weapon in its arsenal and one that is still prevalent in the fourth season. The reliability and sometimes hard sacrifices are evident here, as the siblings realise how much their lives have changed and how things have turned out differently for each of them. Charlie’s battle with Hodgkin’s  and the reactions of the family to it are a manor dramatic high point, sensitively observed and credibly performed. Even though everyone has a different way of coping with the news, they all see that banding together, despite differences, is the only way to get their brother through his trying time. It feels like how a family would react; with obvious worries, trepidation and uncertainty, but all unite by a common love for their sibling. Plus, the inevitable fall out of these pressures, particularly confused Claudia’s acting out and skipping school, gives an emotional depth and honesty to it all. The Salinger’s are frequently at the brink of being pulled apart, but somehow manage to get through a hell of a lot. The writing ensures that we do care about their struggles in the long run and boy the show still knows how to get your emotions working. And special credit must be given to ‘Go Away’, the finest episode of the season. While Charlie awaits news of a crucial batch of tests, he, Bailey and Julia travel to a cabin they frequented as children. Claudia confides in Kirsten about her fears of Charlie dying, while at the cabin, the rest of siblings are dealing with their own struggles. old wounds are opened and slowly some resolution looks like it could be on its way, after much revealing conversation on how their lives have been impacted by their parent’s death. It’s one of those episodes that really allows things to be eventually expressed and for a bigger meaning to come in.

The ever dependable cast is on hand for great work that registers beautifully. Matthew Fox movingly displays the leadership Charlie has gained that is curtailed by the devastating blow of illness. He doesn’t want to admit that he is sick, but simply carry on as normal. Which is obviously going to be difficult, but you do feel bad on Charlie mainly due to the sympathetic work of Matthew Fox. Scott Wolf successfully charts Bailey’s recovery, that isn’t easy, but is worthwhile in establishing him again as a caring guy pulling his life back together. While he still has struggles, Bailey is now back to the amiable guy he was before, albeit one who has been through hell and managed to get himself sorted out. Neve Campbell is up to the task of making Julia both selfless and alternatively selfish, and yet you still can’t hate her. Julia is at the biggest crossroads of her life( wrestling with doubt and pangs of regret)  and feels that she has sacrificed enough for everyone else, making her occasional bout of self-absorption pretty reasonable. And as Campbell is adept at depicting the frequently misguided but longing Julia, you do feel for her. Lacey Chabert continues to impress as troubled Claudia, who is really having a rough time with everything that has transpired. She has for someone so young been through the wringer and Chabert is a mature performer who pulls off the melancholy confusion of Claudia. Jennifer Love Hewitt isn’t given as much to do as before, but her sweetness and sensitivity playing Sarah are still there in lovely fashion. And with regards to Jeremy London as the hopelessly unlucky Griffin, while the issue of him never amounting to anything is overplayed, London finds sympathy in there too. Paula Devicq returns more frequently here, and captures how Kirsten may be married, yet still has a love of Charlie that won’t ever go away.

So while it lacks some of the pull of past seasons, Season 4 of Party of Five has enough to recommend on the dramatic front.