In the vast sea of content available on streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar, shows that are worth watching often tend to get lost. In this series of posts, we fish out lesser-known series that deserve to be your watch-list. One such show is the Netflix series, One Day at a Time, which is based on American television writer Norman Lear’s eponymous sitcom that ran from 1975-1984.
Creators: Gloria Calderon Kellet, Mike Royce
Cast: Rita Moreno, Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Todd Grinnell, Stephen Tobolowsky
Seasons: 4 (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020). Netflix is streaming seasons one, two and three.
Streaming on: Netflix
A single Cuban-American mother keeps her family together
The premise of One Day at a Time doesn’t seem very conducive for comedy. Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), a divorced Latina army veteran suffering from PTSD raises two children with the help of her overbearing Cuban mother, Lydia Riera (Rita Moreno). Her daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) is a lesbian, her best friend Schneider (Todd Grinnell) is a recovering addict who attends AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings and her ex-husband is a homophobe. The show tackles topical and politically relevant issues such as mental illness, immigration, homophobia, sexism, President Trump and racism aimed at Latinos in the US and comes together with much humour. This is an empathetic, memorable and genuinely funny sitcom.
Relatable characters you root for
Season one focused on Penelope’s attempts to give her family the best possible life she could, Elena’s realisation that she’s gay (giving us one of the best coming out narratives on television, but more on that later) and her upcoming quinceañera. It established Penelope as a loving and kind, yet no-nonsense parent. She’s fun-loving, jocular and a self-professed “badass” and open about her PTSD due to her experiences as a medic in Afghanistan. She worries about whether she can ever live without her anti-depressants. Elena’s innate self-confidence and fearlessness make her endearing. And her stubborn and hot-headed streak makes you want to strangle her. Typical feelings a sibling would evoke, no? The same goes for her brother Alex (Marcel Ruiz) who’s the epitome of confidence and cool.
Then there’s Schneider, the very definition of a poor little rich boy. You’d hate him if he wasn’t so damn endearing and nice. And of course, the brightest star in the One Day at a Time galaxy, Lydia, played with campy delight and glamour by Rita Moreno. Every inch a proud Cuban, she’s the heart of the Alvarez family.
In season two and three, the characters evolve into satisfyingly complex beings. Elena is out and proud, Lydia studies for her US citizenship test after grappling with the fact that the Cuba she knew and loved is gone and Alex must deal with school peers telling him to “build a wall”.
One of the best coming out narratives
Many shows, Ugly Betty, Glee, Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl to name a few, handle the coming out of a character well. Especially when it comes to the character’s parents. They’re models of behaviour who could write the manual on how to handle your child’s coming out. Which is why it is very refreshing to see how Penelope takes the news. When Elena confides in her about her sexual orientation and asks her if she’s okay, Penelope reassures her saying, “Of course I am. I love you and I want you to be happy.” Hours later, she’s at Schneider’s confiding, “I hate that I feel weird about it, but I do.” She then voices her doubts to her mother, then a lesbian friend in her female veteran’s group and finally, a patron at a gay bar. She finally realises that it’s a process and that she’s allowed to take her time with it. In contrast, there’s Elena’s homophobic father Victor (James Martinez), who no longer lives with the family. To say he’s disappointed when she comes out to him is an understatement.
Rita Moreno and Justina Machado are the show’s MVPs
Sassy grandmas aren’t a rarity. But sassy grandmas played by EGOT winner Rita Moreno? As Lydia, she’s fierce and fabulous. The only person who Moreno shares the pedestal with is her on-screen daughter Justina Machado. Sure, Lydia gets to have all the fun, but Machado’s Penelope has to keep the family grounded and tackle emotionally wrought moments involving her family. She’s the anchor of the family and the show, and Machado brings her to life effervescently.
A single Cuban-American mother raises her two children with the help of her overbearing mother. Unpretentious and funny, it examines social and politically relevant issues.