Home » Sections » Arts » Netflix original ‘One Day at a Time’ is relatable, humorous, serious all at once

Netflix original ‘One Day at a Time’ is relatable, humorous, serious all at once

By Mia Edelstein

Section: Arts, Top Stories

January 27, 2017

If you follow through on one New Year’s resolution, make it an easy one: Watch “One Day at a Time.”

Just released this month, this Netflix original series is the perfect way to start off 2017. The show, a reboot of Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcom by the same name, follows a matriarchal Cuban-American family in Los Angeles.

Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is an army medic-turned nurse, separated from her army vet husband. Machado is a dynamic actress, who can be both no-nonsense and tender with her two kids, Elena (Isabelle Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz). And Rita Moreno, at age 85, playing Penelope’s 70-year-old immigrant mother Lydia, steals scenes with her old-fashioned advice, humor and sensuality. All of these characters live in the same apartment and have befriended Schneider, the privileged, recovering alcoholic building superintendent, who was named in homage to the original series, whose super was also named Schneider.

“One Day at a Time” can easily steal your heart. It is funny and relatable. You feel how much each character wants to succeed in their own way, whether it’s Penelope’s desire to be recognized for all that she does for her family and her office or Lydia’s unrelenting push to convince Elena to have a quinceañera.

What stands out most about the show is the community, which is convincing and compelling on screen. This family looks out for each other, and the viewer comes to care deeply about these characters because we see how important they are to each other.

The series does not shy away from more serious topics. We find out that Penelope separated from Victor because he suffered from untreated mental illness after he left the army. There is also an episode dedicated to immigration and deportation.

15-year-old Elena’s best and most prominent characteristic is her militant, intersectional feminism. Sometimes, she seems like a caricature of an angry feminist, who must be cut off from ranting about the patriarchy, but thankfully, this doesn’t delegitimize her politics. These rants do not distract from her overall feminist character. One gets the feeling that the writers included these moments so that viewers could take a beat and laugh at the impassioned, stereotypical feminist. As frustrating as that is, this does not divert from Elena’s message or strong characterization, and renders her more identifiable to those of us who proudly spout feminist ideas.

Frequently, Alex seems no different from a sports and video game obsessed middle-school boy, but at other times he shares sweet moments with the women of his family, is thoughtful, and showcases his vulnerabilities.

The show did fall into a common trope with its coming out episode. Rather than focus on the gay character and center her narrative, most of the episode is about a straight character’s coming to terms with this announcement. It was a missed opportunity to raise up a lesbian voice. While it was exciting to have an outspoken lesbian on screen, it was disappointing to see the writers portray a straight person’s difficulties as taking precedence over someone in the LGBT community, whether or not the writers explicitly intended to do this.

Often, characters speak Spanish, and while there is generally enough context to know what is happening, the show doesn’t automatically add subtitles. This choice normalizes a language other than English on our screens. It forces non-Spanish speakers to do some work and invest themselves in the show and the characters’ Cuban heritage.

This show is a far cry from radical, but it is still better than most of what we have on TV. Particularly now, with Trump in office and promoting policy that persecutes marginalized people, it is important to have pop culture that affirms these identities. Media is powerful. Thirteen 30-minute episodes are not much, but each time the characters support and positively represent issues such as immigration and depression, they make some impact.

For the most part, scenes are set in the family room of the Alvarez apartment, but I never found myself wishing for more variety in setting because the storytelling that happens in this one room is fantastic.

As of yet, there has been no word on season two, but as we get deeper into 2017, hopefully we will receive some good news.

Menu Title