One Day at a Time : “This Is It” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Reboots are in fashion. It’s quite possible the machine that consumes existing novels and plays for the small screen has run out of fodder and is beginning to cannibalize its most successful excrement. Okay, it’s more than possible. It’s likely.

This isn’t meant to disparage the art of adaptation, though. Television tends to mirror society, and society tends to repeat itself in cycles; in short, television has its own cycles. One Day at a Time addressed the issues of its time by exploring the challenges a single mother faces in the only tone that would be palatable to middle America: comedy. One Day at a  Time—currently—throws race into the mix of issues to address by writing the family as Cuban. As far as television goes, this counts as progress. Progress, at any rate, is a good thing even if it is only coming One Day at a Time.

The Characters

Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) plays three roles at first blush: a nurse, a military vet, and a mother. Penelope represents more than the single mother that her character was in the Seventies, but a strong Cuban woman who can strip a rifle in ten seconds flat.

Oh, Penelope plays one more role: a daughter. Lydia (Rita Moreno) has moved in with Penelope, her daughter, to help her raise her children. Lydia can be very dramatic.

Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) are the kids that need looking after. Elena has the forward-thinking, progressive mind that is constantly at odds with Lydia’s traditional views on what it is to be Cuban and a woman. Alex seems to be just smart enough to cause trouble and confident enough to pull it off.

Dwayne Schneider (Todd Grinnell) fills the landlord (and oft handyman) part. As a white man, Dwayne can often be the outsider looking in to a culture he has not been exposed to before. I see him as an explanatory device: any time the audience needs something explained, the family will explain it to Dwayne. He’s the goofy comic relief character on a goofy comedy. Think Three’s Company‘s Ralph Furley.

The Themes

Feminist views on what it means to be a single mother have shifted in the three decades between the original One Day at a Time and this reboot. The generational gaps are voiced by the arguments between Penelope, Elena, and Lydia. This is where we are able to see progress beginning from the traditional Cuban ideas of yesteryear, all the way to this generation’s push for equal rights. Penelope is caught in the middle.

Being Cuban (Cubano), this family brings the delicate topic of race to the table. How do we know they’re Cuban? They say so. But even if they didn’t, we could tell because they frequent LA’s worst kept Cuban secret: Porto’s. Porto’s is quite possibly the best bakery I’ve ever been to, and it deserves its own sentence in this review. Back to the matter at hand, we can expect to see a Godfather-esque disparity between how the family interacts and how the white characters interact with the family. Even Dwayne, who seems to be largely accepted as a goofy uncle, has been given a certain boundary he does not feel comfortable crossing when it comes to the family’s culture (e.g., speaking Spanish).

One Day at a Time is a family show, both in the sense that is appropriate for families and it is about a family. Family, and the intricacies that govern the intrapersonal relationships between members, are often the cornerstone for a family sitcom. What separates this show from Everybody Loves Raymond or King of Queens is the single-mother aspect. Without a nuclear family dynamic, it can be more difficult to fall into the same gender-typical stereotypes that a sitcom relies upon. There is no lovable, but oafish, father figure to make the mother look like an irate, barely rational “better half”. What we have instead is a recently-separated woman, trying her best to raise a family while working full-time. These types of families are more common than American values would like for you to believe. It’s important to represent these types of families on television.

Although it’s rarely funny, the shows delves into PTSD caused by war. Penelope also explores the different types of therapy available to a modern day veteran, while suffering from night terrors.

The Criticism

Netflix has released off-beat, highly acclaimed shows during the last few years. But it’s also released The Ranch. I could not tell you why Netflix would produce an original three-camera sitcom, much less reboot one from the era of disco. Netflix has perched themselves in a unique position—one that can ignore censors and ratings—only to bring us shows that could have been made by any of the big networks.

I can’t say I find the show especially funny, but I do appreciate the aim and impact of the series. We have a unique insight into a Cuban family, with all of the trappings: the food, the language, and the arguments. One Day at a Time might be a better cultural lubricant than it is a comedy.

The Conjecture

This season will end with a PTSD episode that shakes Penelope to the core and a new character will be introduced: a therapist.

The Conclusion

While it may be a simply written family sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience, One Day at a Time acts as a primer for a culture many people are not exposed to and feminist ideas that many would dismiss. I personally would love to watch more, but I have difficult time watching a comedy I don’t find funny. If you’re looking for a sitcom that explores some themes that may be outside of your comfort zone, I would suggest One Day at a Time.

If you’re interested in the series, One Day at a Time can be found in its entirety on Netflix. If you’d like to see what else Cody is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.


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