WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS LOTS OF SPOILERS
TV is a powerful medium. It's also an ever changing one - what used to be impossible on major networks is made a reality by online streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. These new forms of TV have given voices to voiceless sections of American and other parts of the world beyond our wildest dreams. Still, even with all of these amazing shows, none of them have managed to capture such a specific, yet entirely relatable picture of modern day America than One Day at Time.
One Day at a Time is a reimagining of a popular sitcom of the same name from the 1970s. The original show ran for nine seasons and followed the life of a single mother, Ann Romano, struggling to raise her to two daughters and give them an amazing life. The new show is very similar, but takes a lot of really amazing liberties. The new series is about a Cuban-American family, Penelope (played by Justina Machado), an army Vet and nurse, lives with her mother, Lydia (played by Rita Moreno), and her son and daughter, Alex and Elena (played by Marcel Ruiz and Isabella Gomez).
There are some similar elements - the character Dwayne Schneider appears in both shows - and there is at least one storyline that is a little similar. Still, these are not the same shows - and they shouldn't be. The strength of this new One Day at a Time is it's focus on modern issues, and it's fearless and honest depiction of a multi-generation Cuban-American family.
It's difficult to decide just what to focus on when talking about this show's groundbreaking elements. Do you talk about the fact that Penelope is a war vet and suffers from PTSD? Or do you talk about the show's beautifully written and incredibly relatable storyline about Penelope's young daughter realizing that she's a lesbian and coming out to her family? And you can't forget the heartbreaking story of grandmother Lydia's time escaping from a Castro-controlled Cuba? I can't decide!
I think the genius in all of these elements rests in the show's ability to seamlessly incorporate them into a sitcom format - and maintain a sense of comedic honesty without being offensive or melodramatic. One minute, Alex, the young son of Penelope, can be doing a project Cuba, and Lydia can be having the time of her life. And then, you see her change - and suddenly she is unable to continue. As the episode progresses, she tearfully reveals that she was forced to leave her big sister in Cuba when she immigrated through the Pedro Pan program (because her sister was too old).
It's powerful, and one of the most intense pieces of TV I've ever seen. Not only is the writing brilliant, but Moreno is a powerhouse - leading the scene with expert intensity. And the show gives everyone a chance to shine. Isabella Gomez acts Elena's coming out story beautifully - and honestly, it was the first time I'd ever felt a television show captured a true queer experience. Marcel Ruiz got an amazing storyline involving racism in season two. And Machado's PTSD is a constant cloud that looms over her Penelope - and her story of struggle and coming to terms with her illness is nothing short of brilliant.
Of course, the show does have a few issues here and there that are nitpicky at best. While all of these elements are amazing - they can get a little preachy - but I feel like that's what a sitcom is. It's in your face and doesn't require the subtlety of a show like Breaking Bad. There's sometimes where I feel like they don't go far enough - especially in terms of Elena's queer storyline. But, that could also be due to how used to pain and trauma TV loves to give to queer characters. Maybe we're past the point of torturing our queer teens and should I accept that.
In the end, One Day at a Time is brave - and that separates it from a lot of its TV contemporaries. It's honest, and unafraid to the make the viewer feel uncomfortable while also making them laugh. It's very small, minor issues are overshadowed by the relevant and thought provoking storylines that manage to hit all the marks without too much drama or unneeded pain for the characters. It's a beautiful show - and I implore you to please go and watch it.
You'd be doing yourself a favor.
Shann Smith is a freelance writer, screenwriter, playwright, gamer, and film/TV lover. When he's not working on his columns for Popdust, he's doing his best to create and consume as much media as he can!
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