In a time when multi-camera sitcoms seem to be dying, Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” is a shining beacon in the television landscape that revitalizes the genre. This re-imagining of the classic CBS series is a hilarious and heartwarming tale of a Cuban-American family dealing with a plethora of relatable issues. This is a show that is filled to the brim with hilarious moments, but there is also a heavy emphasis placed on the ups and downs of life, which give the story a more dramatic tone. With an all star cast and plenty of heart, “One Day at a Time” is a show that everyone should be watching.
The first season premiered in early 2017, but mostly flew under the radar and didn’t draw all that much attention. Sitcoms in general aren’t typically too deep, so that might explain the hesitation of many to jump into this series. “One Day at a Time” is anything but simple though. While it may contain plenty of the stereotypical elements of a sitcom, including cheesy jokes, this series is unique in the sense that it uses serialized storytelling to its advantage. While most sitcoms allow you to pop in and watch any episode without having knowledge of those before it, story arcs carry over from episode to episode in this show. This allows for some truly remarkable character and story development, which makes this one of the more complex sitcoms on the air.
The real draw of “One Day at a Time” is the characters and the beautiful family dynamic that is explored. Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is the definition of “hard-working” as she juggles her job as a nurse while also being a loving mother to her two children. Season 2 finds her trying to jump back into the dating ring and later struggling to fully commit to her secret boyfriend Max (Ed Quinn). She also heads back to school to continue her education, adding yet another layer of stress to her life. Penelope is a badass in every sense and the storylines involving her PTSD, depression and anxiety allow the character to be seen in a different light; she’s not perfect and she has her own internal struggles. Justina Machado delivers a powerful and realistic portrayal of what its like to live with the aforementioned illnesses; very few shows nowadays dare to go near these topics, but “One Day at a Time” does so in such a eloquent way that doesn’t romanticize or sugarcoat the struggles.
Aside from Machado’s Penelope, the character of Lydia (Rita Moreno) is a true comedic and dramatic gem. She lives for the drama and loves to get into everyone’s business, but she is the heart of the family at the end of the day. In Season 2, Lydia also tries her hand at “dating,” but instead develops a lovely friendship with Penelope’s boss Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky). She is a caring mother and grandmother, but her traditional views do clash with those of her family at times; this is especially true in the storylines dealing with Penelope’s depression, showcasing the taboo surrounding mental health in this country. There’s no denying Rita Moreno’s talent (she’s an EGOT for Christ’s sake), which is put on full display here, specifcally in the scenes opposite of Machado; the final two episodes of the season really allow Moreno to take the character to new heights as her character has a health scare.
Netflix seems to have mastered casting the most talented young actors in the industry, with “Stranger Things” and “One Day at a Time” being perfect examples. Penelope’s children Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) are crucial to the story and serve as the primary driving force of their mother, but they also have noteworthy arcs themselves. After coming out last season, Elena is far more confident and comfortable as she continues fighting for social justice. This season, she is also given a girlfriend in Syd (Sheridan Pierce) and develops her first romantic relationship; this arc in particular is a strong portrayal of the awkwardness of teenagers dating. The character of Elena represents the importance of LGBTQ+ representation, specifically of younger members of the community who are still figuring out who they are; one scene this season showcases Elena’s growth as she stands up to her homophobic father and makes it clear that she is proud of who she is. Meanwhile, Alex serves as a necessary support figure to his sister, as well as the rest of his family. Much of Alex’s story revolves around his humor and hot-shot attitude, but there is also great depth in a storyline that deals with him being the recipient of racist remarks. His scenes with Lydia are also noteworthy as the two have such a close bond that “creeps” out the rest of the family at times.
“One Day at a Time” is an excellent tale of an ordinary family making their way through the peaks and valleys of life. In the tense political climate, this series serves as a real look at the issues that Latino families face not only today, but also in the past. The topics discussed and the way in which the narrative is explored makes this sitcom unlike any other on television at the moment. The viewer is able to connect with the characters and follow their journey from episode to episode as they develop and grow. Elena is certainly the best example of this growth, but each character exhibits change that is normally absent in typical sitcoms and even some dramas. The writing is absolutely stellar and makes the situations feel totally relatable and timely; the humor hits the right notes and doesn’t play it safe, poking fun at even the most serious of topics. The focus on veteran’s issues, the LGBTQ+ community, Cuban culture, racism and so much more is the reason that “One Day at a Time” is a much-needed story. It would be an absolute-crime if Justina Machado and Rita Moreno do not receive Emmy-nominations for their work this season (along with the show as a whole), because they are at the top of their game in every scene. The first season introduced viewers to the family and laid the foundation and Season 2 builds upon what was already great and makes it even better.
Seasons 1 and 2 of “One Day at a Time” are available to stream on Netflix.