Netflix’s One Day at a Time

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If you are a loyal reader of this blog, it won’t come as any sort of surprise that I watch a lot of TV. Like, A lot a lot. It’s moderately embarrassing, but also kind of impressive that I get as much done as I do, given my Herculean TV schedule. My love affair with TV isn’t a new phenomenon; this wasn’t a habit that I picked up as a teenager or while I was away at college. I wouldn’t be surprised if I came out of the womb clutching a remote control since my penchant for the small screen dates back as far as I can remember. As a child of the late 70s and early 80s, I watched a lot of sitcoms from Normal Lear; The Jeffersons, Maude, All in the Family, Good Times, and One Day at a Time were all an integral part of my childhood. I’m actually thankful for this, as it exposed me to much more diverse people and viewpoints than I otherwise would have had access to. There are a lot of reasons that I’m a progressive, but my early exposure to the shows of Lear has to be at least a contributing factor. Of course, watching these shows is also what got me in trouble for calling someone a “jive turkey,” so sometimes the lessons I learned were something of a mixed bag. What’s impressive about these shows is how well they hold up today; of course some of the references and clothing is dated and I’ve long since left behind the world of sitcoms with canned laughter, but a lot of the issues that these characters wrestled with today are still issues of concern in the modern world.

When I heard that Netflix was rebooting One Day at a Time, I was a little nervous at the prospect of tinkering with a show that I had such fond memories of. I was glad that Norman Lear gave the show his blessing and the idea of making the show about a Cuban family seemed like it would be relatable, so I decided to take a chance and binge watch the show this weekend while I was feeling a bit under the weather. People whose opinions I trust had liked the show, so I tried to approach the show with an open mind.

I think how they approached the reboot of One Day at a Time was very smart and made for an enjoyable show – they kept only the barest bones of the original and made this show an honest reboot. The general spirit of the 70s show is there, but the new One Day at a Time has its own distinct personality and viewpoint. Instead of a divorced white woman with two daughters trying to make it in Indianapolis, the new One Day at a Time follows a multi-generational Cuban family. Mom Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is an Army vet working as a nurse in Echo Park, CA. She’s raising a 15 year old daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) and 12 year old son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) with the help of her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno). Perhaps the biggest (and smartest) change from the original is the role of building superintendent Schneider; instead of a somewhat creepy guy with a mustache, denim vest and a pack of cigarettes rolled into his sleeve, the modern Schneider (Todd Grinnell) is a rich hipster whose father bought him the building. He’s still overly invested in the Alvarez family, but he is much less predatory and he serves as an important counterpoint for the discussions. He’s well meaning, but occasionally ill-informed. Much like its predecessor, the new version of the show tackles social issues including immigration, PTSD, delays with Veteran’s Affairs and a coming out story.

It did take me a few episodes to get in to the format. As I’ve said, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched a multi-cam sitcom complete with audience laughter and it was a little bit of an adjustment. But once I adapted, I really enjoyed One Day at a Time. Even though it is a dramatically different show, the Lear DNA is still present and I appreciated the exposure to stories that while universal were coming from a unique (to me) perspective. The show has earned much praise for the coming out story and that is well deserved. The storyline quietly threads throughout the whole season and does a nice job showing the journey that both the child and parent go through. Most shows focus on only one perspective – typically of the character that is coming out – but One Day at a Time manages to give a true and honest depiction of what it’s like for the parent as well. I thought it was organically told and because they took their time with the story, it didn’t feel like a “very special episode” or a gimmick. It was far more nuanced and authentic than most of what you see on TV.

By the end of the 13 episodes of the first season, I was definitely won over; even the new version of the theme song by Gloria Estefan was acceptable in my book, and I have great affinity for the original version. The news broke over the weekend that the show would be getting a second season, which I am glad for. The cast is talented – Rita Moreno is a national treasure and I have been very impressed with everyone else – and really a show like this couldn’t be timelier. There’s been rumors of other Norman Lear shows possibly getting the reboot treatment as well, and if they all follow the model of the 2017 One Day at a Time that would be quite promising. A carbon-copy of the original would have been a mistake and One Day at a Time took the best parts of the original and then made the show their own, told in its own unique voice. The only downside of watching the new episodes is that they made me very hungry; way too many scenes take place around the dinner table and now I really want some plantains.

Like many people, I have been exhausted by Hollywood’s steadfast desire to reboot everything, but this incarnation of One Day at a Time makes the case that reboots, when done correctly, can bring a lot to the table. Even if you weren’t a fan of the original series, Netflix’s One Day at a Time is worth checking out. The more diverse voices out there, the better.

The first season of One Day at a Time is currently streaming on Netflix.

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