Here's why One Day at a Time — one of the best shows on TV — needs to be saved
UPDATE: Netflix announced on Thursday, March 14 that it was not going to renew One Day at a Time for a fourth season. Sony Pictures Television and producers/co-creators Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce are shopping the series to other networks and streaming services (which upset fans hope happens!). Below, read our impassioned plea — published when rumors started circulating that the show was in danger of being canceled — for why the show deserves to stay on the air.
EARLIER: Fresh off a presidential election that plunged our nation into terrifying uncertainty and despair for so many Americans, a reimagined family sitcom from the ’70s and ’80s premiered on Netflix. But instead of a series focusing on a single white mother and her two daughters (still forward material for the time), this iteration of One Day at a Time centered on a newly single Latina mother living with her two children and her immigrant mother. The timing couldn’t have been more difficult for a country that was already being ripped apart at its red, white, and blue seams as our president-elect was figuring out how to start making good on his anti-immigration campaign promises.
From the pilot we could tell this sitcom was different, despite having all the hallmarks of our beloved TV family comedies: the live studio audience; the extra bright studio sitcom lighting; the three-wall living room set. But this family unabashedly spoke Spanish without translation and the first episode dealt with everything from racism and feminism to veterans and depression. We may not have been in the audience, cheering when living legend Rita Moreno made her grand entrance by opening her own damn curtains, but by god it was immediately evident to anyone who watched that One Day at a Time was going to be the light we so desperately needed, the comfort food — ropa vieja, if you will — that would nourish us even after our binge was over. As Lydia (Moreno) tells her adult daughter Penelope (Justina Machado) after she breaks down over her failed marriage: “I got you.”
And, girl, have they ever. In just three seasons, the Alvarez family has seen us through coming out of the closet and first love, homophobia, addiction, depression, PTSD, racism, gentrification, 9/11, graduation, the near loss of a parent (an episode that, even a year later I still cannot watch without crying), remarriage, citizenship, and even Canada. You don’t have to be Cuban, an immigrant, gay, or a recovering addict to understand and/or to feel understood, and such is the beauty of this show.
Old family sitcoms would have tackled many of these issues with “very special episodes,” and they certainly wouldn’t have let us see the matriarch, the heart of the show, have a breakdown, let alone a depressive episode, but One Day at a Time has never tried to hide who it really is, which is what familia is all about.
While there is no denying the brilliance of Moreno in every line she gifts us, using Lydia’s now signature flare — my favorite still being when she exited a hotel closet with flourish, informing her gay granddaughter, Elena (artfully played by Isabella Gomez), that “THAT is how you come out of the closet” — it’s Machado who carries the show. Arguably the most underrated actress of our time, Machado takes the show’s diamond out of the rough. If Moreno is the shine, then it’s Machado who’s the rock. Her pitch-perfect delivery is able to both find the laughter in the heartache and pull at the heartstrings in comedic moments. Yes, the writers tell her all the right things to say in the times when so many of us have wished we, too, had a script to read, but without Machado’s ability to make us feel each measured word, One Day at a Time would be just another family sitcom that preaches a life lesson every half hour. Machado’s gift is that she can deftly unravel and put us back together again without us even realizing it, and isn’t that what a real mom does?
Machado’s Penelope also serves as the bridge between yesterday (Lydia) and the future (her children, Elena and Alex), between the privileged (building owner/super, Schneider and Penelope’s boss, Dr. Berkowitz, portrayed by Todd Grinnell and Stephen Tobolowsky, respectively) and the underserved. So many of the show’s most poignant moments are born from Penelope’s finding the common thread that all sides can understand and laugh at. Like in the first season when Schneider, who’s Canadian, laments his undocumented status and Penelope sarcastically responds, “Wow, you must’ve been very brave coming here with everything, knowing only the entire language, and struggling to unlearn the metric system.” Or, in one of the series’ most memorable episodes, where, after calling herself a “narrow-minded homofallopian,” Lydia cites her religious beliefs as reason for her issues with Elena being gay to an empathetic Penelope who’s torn between understanding where her mother is coming from and her love for her daughter who just wants to be who she truly is.
On the surface, it looks like a sitcom for snowflake liberals who decry Trump and gentrification and speak up for the marginalized while celebrating cultural differences, but at its core, it’s just a great show about an American family who argues, struggles, supports, and loves just like any other. Every episode, every season has shown us that family is both the one we’re born into and the one we create, the one we are given and the one we choose.
Which is why it’s entirely unsurprising that One Day at a Time fans have rallied upon hearing that the series’ future is uncertain. After all, if one of your family members is in trouble, you show up (and hopefully you bring pastelitos). After co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett tweeted that Netflix still hasn’t decided on the show’s fourth season, stars including Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Melissa Fumero (who played Penelope’s cousin Estrellita in the season 3 opener), Joe Manganiello (who guested as Nick, Schneider’s sponsor), and icon Gloria Estefan (who not only sings the show’s rebooted theme song but also appeared this season as Lydia’s sister and nemesis), immediately tweeted their support, helping make #RenewODAAT trend worldwide. Even producer Norman Lear, the man behind the original series (along with All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, and more), couldn’t contain his excitement seeing fans rally behind the show and express their desire for more. “I’m not sure what it means to be trending,” he wrote on Twitter, “but HOLY S— does it feel good.”
So this is my appeal, my plea to everyone who’s not only already fallen in love with the Alvarez family (Schneider and Dr. Berkowitz included), but also to anyone who’s ever known what it’s like to love your over-the-top grandparents who don’t always say the right thing but who always come through, or to anyone who’s known what it’s like to be fiercely protective of your children as you try to give them a better life than you’ve had: please gather your familia to watch and re-watch this much-needed series.
One Day at a Time, I got you. We all got you. ¡Dale, networks, Dale!