I promise to try very hard not to make every review I write framed within the context of COVID-19. But the saying “one day at a time” has been my motto since the schools closed down and social distancing commenced. I have to take it one day at a time and not go down that rabbit hole of what will happen if school is cancelled for the rest of the year, if by summer we are still confined to our homes, if my eyebrows are never waxed again. If I’m being honest, I’m almost taking it one hour or even one minute at a time. As I write this my children are peacefully co-existing as one does her school work and the other one plays. But I know I’m on borrowed time and at any minute screams and tears could erupt.
On TV, the Alvarez family, lead by matriarch duo of Lydia (the ever-fabulous Rita Moreno) and Penelope (Justina Machado) has always taken whatever life throws at them—an absentee husband, financial struggles, medical crises—one day at a time. Their quintessential humor in the face of adversity is a model for us all.
One Day at a Time, which moves to Pop TV after being unceremoniously cancelled by Netflix after three seasons, didn’t just survive the move from a streaming platform to a more traditional network, it is thriving. The show is as sharp, witty, poignant, and hilarious as ever. Truly the only noticeable difference is that Alex (Marcel Ruiz) is a lot taller. The show gets its dig at its former home out of the way early (“It’s like there’s nothing good on Netflix anymore,” Alex laments) so it can get back to doing what it does best. The minute Lydia throws open her bedroom curtains with her trademark dramatic flair, you know everything is going to be okay.
But what’s truly interesting is the series was an anomaly on Netflix—a traditional three camera comedy on a platform that almost single-handedly disrupted the entire way television was consumed. The show is actually a much better fit on Pop TV, the home of Schitt’s Creek. Its comedic beats are more suitable for commercial interruption.
One Day at a Time’s sweet spot is tackling difficult subject matters and tricky plot lines within the comforts of a seemingly conventional network comedy. In the first three episodes made available for review, Alex starts dating, Elena (Isabella Gomez) struggles with what will happen to her relationship with Syd (Sheridan Pierce) once they go off to college, Penelope buys a couch with Schneider’s (Todd Grinnell) help, and Alex walks in on his mother having, as she puts it, a “menage a moi.” As with all things One Day at a Time there are layers to everything. Participating in the census (via guest star Ray Romano) makes Penelope realize that she wants a man in her life. She’s tired of everyone telling her that she’s a “strong independent woman.” “It’s okay for me to admit that I can still be a feminist badass and want a boyfriend,” she proclaims. Buying a new couch forces Penelope to confront her year of financial insecurity.
The conversation around masturbation in Episode 3 hones in on both family boundaries and generational differences. Lydia views it as a “very sinful habit for sad, ugly people.” “All I am saying I cannot be a mother-in-law to a dust buster,” she deadpans.
Moreno’s pitch-perfect delivery of those line will make you giggle, but it also opens up a discussion around sexuality. It causes Lydia to go on a one-woman search to find a husband for her daughter. “Who is your favorite Pope,” Lydia asks one of the potential suitors. “There is a right answer.” Lydia is the Cuban version of the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey. Her bon mots are a thing of beauty that should be quoted early and often.
There’s so much to love about One Day at a Time: the way it both respects and finds the humor in the family’s Catholic faith, the ongoing repercussions of Penelope’s time in Afghanistan (she’s still in group therapy with McKenzie Phillips as the group leader), the loving way it admires a close-knit family (“There is no such thing as privacy from your mother!”) celebrating the family’s Cuban heritage, and honoring that a loving, devoted and platonic friendship can exist between Penelope and Schneider. The show is at once a throwback and cutting edge. The cast is all so strong. They hit the comedic notes effortlessly and with aplomb.
How lucky we all are to have a show this beautiful, funny and uplifting during such a difficult time. Dale One Day at a Time! Dale!
One Day at a Time premieres Tuesday, March 24 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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