There are very few comedy shows that manage to discuss important socio-political issues, explore familial relationships and make you snort from laughter and tears all in one episode. Yet somehow One Day at a Time has managed to do that for 26 episodes across two seasons. The Netflix sitcom, which is loosely based on the 1975-84 series of the same name, is centred around a Cuban American family, with Penelope Alvarez, a single veteran mum (Justina Machado), living with her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno), and her two kids Elena (Isabella Gómez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz). The sitcom is refreshing, funny, moving and groundbreaking and is exactly what we need in our current political climate.
All the typical tropes of a sitcom are present in One Day at a Time – the laugh track, the main settings, the at times absurd storylines, and the archetypal characters, from the wacky neighbour in Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the overbearing mother in Lydia, the nerdy kid in Elena and the smooth operator in Alex. However, showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce take all these tropes and weave them into thoughtful and moving storylines, realistic and loving relationships and emotional and joyful character arcs.
The first season follows Elena’s Quinces and coming out, Penelope coming to terms with and dealing with her depression and PTSD, as well as the struggles of single parenting, being an immigrant in America, and the normal day-to-day challenges of family life. It manages to incorporate emotional themes and storylines with snappy one-liners and just the right amount of heart-warming moments, which means a box of tissues should be by everyone’s side as they watch.
Season Two, which came out on January 26th, continues in the same brilliant way as the first season. It weaves together the stories of season one, whilst never feeling stale, or lesser than the previous season. The introduction of new characters, primarily the love interests of Penelope and Elena, Max (a veteran and EMT played by Ed Quinn), and Syd (Sheridan Pierce) adds to the already incredible ensemble cast and allows for further growth in the main characters. Syd’s character highlights the shows constant efforts for diversity and inclusivity, with a scene being dedicated to the Alvarez family learning about pronouns and Syd being a genderqueer teen going by they/them.
One Day at a Time doesn’t shy away from portraying real issues of race in America, with season one discussing the deportation of Latinx Americans through Elena’s best friend Carmen’s parents being deported and season two further highlighting the growing racism towards Latinx Americans under Trump in the season opener, “The Turn,” with Alex facing racism at school.
The Alvarez family’s Cuban heritage is at the forefront of the show, with episodes such as, “Storage Wars,” conveying the importance of history and holding on to your heritage and roots. Rita Moreno portrays Lydia’s fear of letting go of a garage full of items as she fears she will further lose her connection to Cuba and her late husband Berto. The episode encapsulates many immigrants’ experiences of wanting to retain a connection to their homeland. Lydia not wanting to lose her connection to Cuba is also explored in, “Roots,” as it is revealed that she isn’t an American citizen because it meant renouncing her Cuban citizenship. Elena’s struggle with her Cuban heritage is also portrayed in the first episode as she has difficulties connecting to her family due to her not speaking Spanish, and feeling as if she doesn’t look ‘latinx enough,’ opening an important discussion about the diversity amongst latinx people.
The true crescendo of season two and of Machado’s performance comes in, “Hello, Penelope,” as Penelope struggles with coming off her anti-depressants and no longer going to group therapy. The episode is one of the most real and confronting portrayals of depression I’ve seen on television. Machado manages to convey the lowest of lows as well as the giddiness and nervousness caused by infatuation and the difficulties of being brutally honest with a loved one about your mental health. Penelope expresses her concerns and worries about how her depression affects her children and mother, as well as how it’d impact her new relationship, whilst also accepting that her mental illness will never go away, but that it’s manageable with the right help and support.
One Day at a Time is a show that you walk away from feeling as if you’ve been invited to both a quinceañera and an emotional family dinner around the kitchen table. Royce and Kellett manage to tell profound and realistic stories that centres the family’s Cuban heritage with their American life, that discusses mental health, provides a hopeful and truthful LGBT+ storyline and isn’t afraid to provide social and political commentary without ever feeling as if it’s pushing an agenda. I urge you to check out One Day at a Time, if for no other reason than to watch Rita Moreno at her fabulous best.
Libby Robbins Bevis | @unimpressed
Libby is a gay history major who doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her degree, but thanks for asking.