By: Edward Simon Cruz
With people stuck at home, more people are on Netflix and other streaming services. As shows like Love is Blind and Tiger King took the Internet by storm, I revisited an old, under-appreciated gem. Netflix cancelled One Day at a Time last year, but the show’s small but loyal following prompted the cable network Pop TV to pick it up for a fourth season.
It’s a television sitcom, sure, and it uses one of those studio audiences that laughs after almost every joke. But to its credit, the audience never overdoes it in their reactions; in fact, their silence punctuates the show’s more tender moments, making them all the more heartbreaking. One Day at a Time is a modern-day reboot of an eponymous 1970s sitcom from Norman Lear, the legendary producer whose sitcoms were unafraid to tackle the big social issues of the day like racism, discrimination, and homophobia; all of those sitcoms still hold up today. Thankfully, this show seems to have learned a thing or two from those classics.
Like those shows, One Day at a Time revolves around family, not just the one you have but also the one you make. The main Alvarez family consists of single mother Penelope, her daughter Elena, her son Alex, and her mother Lydia. Other prominent characters include the rich yet sufficiently down-to-earth landlord Schnieder and the sometimes absent-minded Dr. Berkowitz, who begins as Penelope’s boss but connects with the family in other ways.
The Alvarez family is proudly Cuban-American, and their culture is integral to the show: Gloria Estefan updates the original theme song with an upbeat arrangement and Cuban instruments, and characters frequently alternate between English and Spanish. In fact, one character’s bilinguality (or lack thereof) is a plot point and advances the show’s themes of balancing cultural heritage as an immigrant.
However, you don’t have to be Latino to enjoy this show or appreciate its stories. Like the original series, One Day at a Time deals with pressing issues surrounding such topics as gender, sexuality, and race. It’s very obvious that the writers are liberal, and some lines of dialogue are very on-the-nose in spoon-feeding morals to the audience; however, these are canceled out by the more tender moments that characters regularly share with each other.
Characters grapple with life issues in ways that are natural and pertinent to their lives, leading us to bond and connect with them as their story arcs progress. The finales of each season are quite touching. In particular, the second season finale—my favorite episode—is the show at its best: there are some very funny moments, but the episode’s premise gives each character a moment to shine as they connect and display their affection for each other, even at their most vulnerable.
This is a show about handling discrimination and hatred, sure, but it’s also a show about the beauties in life and a celebration of the empathy and love that we can give to each other. Ultimately, One Day at a Time is about finding hope in the people we hold dear to our hearts. Isn’t that something we could all use more of right now?