This review is coming incredibly late, but since this is, after all, Really Late Reviews, I figured I am just keeping in line with the site’s title.
In previous reviews – particularly my Fuller House ones- I have discussed my skepticism with revivals. To me, that is Hollywood’s way of saying “we’re too lazy to create new, funny, and interesting material, so we’re going to recycle old ones and attempt to make it new – even though it’s really the same- just by adding wardrobe and new minor characters.” I get they want to indulge people’s nostalgia but sometimes it’s more fun to watch something completely new.
However, I have to give Netflix and executive producers Mike Royce and Norman Lear a great deal of credit for how they revived One Day at a Time. Norman Lear produced the original version that ran from 1975-1984 . The show was both before my time but also not on the re-run channels for me to watch while I was growing up. The central premise of the original one was a single mom raising two daughters in Indianapolis. The Landlord is also a central character in the family’s lives.
Lear adapted his original series for the 10s (I’m trying to make it a thing to call this decade the 10s, so humor me with this seemingly out of place verbiage.) but added multiple changes. Instead of a Caucasian Family, the central family is Cuban. The family is lives in Los Angeles instead of Indianapolis. The single mom, Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), is a nurse, and has two kids- a girl and boy this time- Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz). Her mother Lydia-played by the legendary Rita Moreno- also lives with them in the apartment. The apartment landlord/friend is also named Schneider (Todd Grinnell) like the original version.
The biggest change – and the one that I have to give the most praise to since you never ever see this in shows- is the mom is a Veteran, having served in the Army Nursing Corps. Rarely do I hear people acknowledge women’s current service in the military, both in real-life situations or on TV shows. A leading character that is a veteran often has a male face. For this to be a big deal to have a female lead as veteran indicates that Hollywood still has a lot of stories to uncover. Luckily, we have producers like Norman Lear, who has ignored many television conventions in the past to bring new perspectives (in fact, that’s what he’s known for with his groundbreaking shows in the 70s- All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, etc). The fact that he still continues to do that at his age (in the 90s) is admirable.
Another part about the military storyline I appreciated was that the producers chose to accurately depict the difficulties in assimilating back to normal life post-Army. I’ve never been truly satisfied with how this plays out on the TV shows I’ve watched. Either they ignore the challenges or scratch the surface. The only notable exception is Parenthood, which devoted two seasons to the effects of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after war. In One Day at a Time, the show not only covers this throughout the season but also the other issues, such as difficulties in getting medical care, coping with injuries in day-to-day life, and finding support with other Veterans.
I liked that this characters were from a community that still needs representation in all parts of Hollywood (from writing to directing to acting). One thing I particularly loved loved loved was how the show shed light on the differences that exist between multiple generations of an immigrant family; Lydia came from Cuba and was rooted in her traditions there, while Elena was born here and adapted to American viewpoints. Their arguments due to this often replicated what I’ve experienced as a first generation Indian- American myself. These nuances are important aspects in accurately depicting immigrant family’s experiences, and I credit Jane the Virgin for being one of the first shows to spend time on this in a TV show (paving the way for this show).
While the show does a great job in celebrating the characters’ culture, it also does a great job in showing that ethnicity wasn’t the only part that defined these characters. A central part of these characters’ identities also include their interests, age, and political beliefs. Often times, Hollywood assumes minorities identify themselves primarily through their cultural lens. The reality is someone’s culture is often inter-weaved into a person’s life, with other aspects sometimes taking forefront in defining a person. For example, I’m Indian-American but I define my identity many times as a TV / book nerd first and then my ethnicity.One Day at A Time does a great job highlighting this complexity; the stories include characters speaking over each other in Spanish but also arguing about dating. One Day at a Time does a great job in showing the whole picture on minorities.
Aside from the realistic and diverse viewpoints this show represents, the show is just plain funny. It’s hard for me to choose between who my favorite is – Schneider of the grandmother. Each is comical in different ways; Schneider is just plain goofy – though extremely sweet- while Lydia delivery when discussing her viewpoints- which often clash with her daughter and granddaughter-had me chucking for minutes after the initial joke. I particularly enjoy when Lydia taunts Elena when the latter is talking about her environmental and feminist views. I happen to agree with Elena completely, but Lydia’s mocking is clever.
Speaking of Elena, she’s an example of how teenage girls should be written. She’s not only brainy and funny, but she’s also not into fashion. I’m barely into fashion now, but was definitely not into when I was Elena’s age. Hollywood typically looks down about these non-fashion forward girls, turning this disinterest into a flaw that must be changed. This show made it something to be proud of and not shy away from. Lydia makes fun of Elena for it all the time but the show as a whole doesn’t act as if Elena has to change.
This show breaks the mold in so many ways – in addition to the woman in combat role, we see an alternate take on who really are the illegal immigrants (it’s not who people like to stereotype) and on how marriages collapse – that I’m surprised more people don’t appear to be watching it. The good news it did get picked up for a second season. I can hardly wait. The theme is so addictive (it’s the theme from the original version but all jazzed up) and is always in my head. I can’t wait to be hearing it again with new episodes.
Check out the show and let me know what you think, either in comments below or tweeting me @classicsgal.