Picks and Pans Review: Party of Five

updated 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Fox (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)

C+

This melodrama series introduces one of the season's recurring themes: a group of young siblings struggles to stay together after the death of the parents. (More on this curiously contemporary theme in coming weeks.) The Salinger clan, who live in a sun-bedazzled Victorian home in San Francisco, lost their parents to a drunk driver. Now every week they leave the crusty dishes molding in the sink and gather in a booth at their late father's chi-chi restaurant. (Hence the title.)

There's Charlie (Matthew Fox), a lanky 24-year-old grunge stud. Then comes handsome Bailey, 16 (Scott Wolf), the overresponsible one. Next is Julia (Catwalk's Neve Campbell), a brilliant 15-year-old student, who wants to walk on the wild side. Claudia (Lacey Chabert, who played Erica's daughter on All My Children) is an 11-year-old violin virtuoso. They all pitch in to care for 11-month-old tot Owen (twins Taylor and Brandon Porter). Okay, make that Party of Four Plus an Infant Seat.

In the solemn pilot the youngsters were all incredibly mature, incredibly patient, incredibly understanding and incredibly dull. But the characters seem to be growing more selfish, randy and funky. That tendency was advanced when they hired a nanny (Paula Michelle Devicq) who looks more like model Carol Alt than Mrs. Doubtfire.

Here's hoping the Salingers misbehave. It's perverse to put together a high-gloss young cast and then saddle them with enormous responsibilities. It's like hiring the Rockettes and dressing them in space-age-like hazmat suits: It doesn't play to their strengths.

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