By Ken Tucker
Updated January 06, 2009 at 07:13 PM EST

Today, the woman we remember most fondly as the apple-cheeked Ann Romano in the 1975-84 sitcom One Day At A Time is celebrating her birthday — she’s a mere 65. As Ann — the divorced mother of daughters Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) — Franklin always exuded pluckiness, intelligence, wryness, and common sense, qualities she needed in abundance while dealing not only with her fractious teenage girls but also in fending off the ludicrous romantic delusions of her apartment-building super, Dwayne Schneider (the wily Pat Harrington, Jr.).

Let’s keep things in perspective: One Day At A Time isn’t by any stretch a classic sitcom, but it was a thoroughly engaging, charming one in its early seasons, and that’s largely due to Franklin, who managed a winsome sexiness in the initial seasons that never detracted from her character’s firm authority as a mom. An independent woman, our Ann Romano was.

And so on this day, when prime-time is offering a new episode of (gag) The Real Housewives of Orange County, I salute a much more convincing ex-wife and mother in Ann Romano. On a day when we’ll be asked to believe the increasingly ludicrous decadence in new episodes of (rip, stitch) Nip/Tuck, I reach out to Bonnie Franklin and thank her for embodying a character who now seems a lot more vividly realistic, and fun, than so many of the miserable, grasping characters that fill prime time. If I could play matchmaker for Ann Romano with any fictional figure now, I’d fix her up with tonight’s other hero, Simon Baker’s Patrick Jane, of The Mentalist. His smooth charm and her brainy pluck would make a good match, don’t you think? And together they might have been able to keep Julie/Mackenzie and Barbara/Valerie out of trouble, on camera and off.

Happy birthday, Bonnie.