About Christmas TV History

Saturday, July 23, 2011

1990s Christmas: Party of Five

The 1990s were the decade that teen prime time dramas took off on television. Beverly Hills, 90210 was the trend setter that encouraged shows like My So-Called Life, Party of Five and Dawson's Creek to join their ranks.  All four of these teen dramas created Christmas-themed episodes.  But today I'd like to focus on Party of Five.

The series ran from 1994 through 2000.
 Did you ever watch Party of Five?  This emotional series follows the lives of the five Salinger offspring after their parents are killed in a car accident.  The oldest, 24 year-old Charlie, takes over as the head of the clan trying to keep his younger siblings, 16 year-old Bailey, 15 year-old Julia, 11 year-old Claudia and the infant, Owen, together as a family.  My favorite holiday episode from Party of Five is 1996's "Christmas."

L to R: Julia (Neve Campbell), Bailey (Scott Wolf), Claudia (Lacey Chabert), young Owen (Jacob Smith), and Charlie (Matthew Fox).
In this first holiday episode, Grandpa Jake shows up on the kids’ doorstep for Christmas, helping everyone feel like a family again.  But Jake's sudden appearance arouses suspicions--will he try to break up the family the kids have worked so hard to keep together?  When Charlie discovers Jake leaving in the middle of the night, he learns that Jake is dying of cancer and had come for his final Christmas visit to see his grandchildren.  Meanwhile, Claudia has a violin-playing suitor, Charlie tries to help a homeless guy at the restaurant, and Bailey tries to keep his lonely coach company.  Only when the family comes together to talk and share their feelings does it begin to feel like Christmas for them.  The role of Grandpa Jake is played by TV veteran, Carroll O'Connor.

This is one of those sad and sentimental storylines that are popular at Christmas time on television dramas but commonplace on Party of Five.  But that's the strength of this teen drama--it was a dependable vehicle for exploring touching storylines as well as the emotional lives of its characters.  This particular episode is another where Carroll O'Connor shines--as Jake seeks one last connection with the remaining Salinger family while trying to spare them further loss and grief over his own certain death.

Carroll O'Connor (1924-2001)
O'Connor is known to most TV viewers for his landmark role as Archie Bunker on All in the Family, a series with several fantastic Christmas episodes of its own.  What you may not know, is that O'Connor has also appeared in several more holiday stories including two on his police drama In the Heat of the Night and as a guest star in the 1964 Christmas episode "Long Live the King" on the science fiction drama, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  O'Connor even voiced the character of Santa Claus for 1985's The GLO Friends Save Christmas, the animated special based on the Hasbro Toys.

O'Connor on the Christmas episode of 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea'

This Party of Five Christmas episode can be viewed on DVD and at Netflix.  It is located on the third season's disc 3.  You can also watch in on my Youtube channel, Tisthe SeasonTV in the 1990s playlist.  Both All in the Family and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea are available to watch on DVD and at Netflix as well.


  1. Great blog! Always looking for Christmas tv episodes/movies. Thanks for visiting The Christmas Spirit and following. I'm now following back. =O)