• Category: TV Reviews
  • Written by Rick Ellis

Review: 'One Day At A Time'


If Hollywood in 2017 had an overriding theme, it was the importance of having diverse voices involved in your television project. Women stepped up to publicly battle sexual harassment in the industry, a wider range of points of view began to be heard in writing rooms and even the most reluctant studio and network executives began to see that creating a working environment where everyone's voice could be heard equally isn't just the best moral decision. It makes for better projects and that means more money for everyone.
 
While all of these coming changes weren't so obvious when the reimagined "One Day At A Time" premiered on Netflix in January 2017, the show was a textbook example of how it's possible to make an original and diverse story work inside a premise that dates back to the 1970s. Executive producer Norman Lear and showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, along with a soulful and talented cast and crew delivered a show that was very successful for Netflix and also received the kind of critical acclaim that would warm the heart of even the coldest studio executive.
 
"One Day At A Time" rightly received credit for its ability to tell nuanced and diverse stories inside a traditional TV comedy format. The first season dealt with issues ranging from immigration, the existence of God and Che Guevera to modern feminism and the ongoing problems with the VA. Justina Machado's Penelope Alvarez is a woman who struggles daily with the balancing acts inherent in any family. She's an Afghanistan vet with all the problems that implies. But she's also a  mother to two strong-willed children: 14-year-old daughter, Elena (Isabella Gomez), and 12-year-old son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz). And then there's her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno), who both helps her and manages to subtly remind her of all the ways she may be struggling on a daily basis. And let's not forget Snyder, who's played by Todd Grinnell. In this incarnation, Snyder is more hipster than oaf, but as the season progresses it becomes clear he's also an unexpected point of male stability for the kids. The show illustrates the obvious point that non-white writers and actors have known all along: there's a huge market for diverse stories told by diverse casts.
 
While all of those points are important, for me the big takeaway from "One Day At A Time" as the second season gets set to premiere isn't that it's possible to get an audience for a show that isn't all-white and set in Middle America. The real lesson is that for all of the differences between us, what draws us together is our shared humanity. What brings us together as a society is being reminded that despite the differences in our upbringing or the diversity of our individual cultures, it's what we share in common that matters most.
 
What "One Day At A Time" does so masterfully is bring an experience to the screen that both embraces and transcends diversity. It celebrates a very specific point of view while still showing that the challenges faced by an extended Cuban-American family aren't all that different than the ones staring down a white family in Kansas, Texas or Vermont. We all know what feels like to worry about your future. To struggle about how you're going to put food on the table or feel loved by someone you care about. We don't have to have lived through the experience of having a loved one come out to recognize the challenges of a family trying to find their way through a minefield of emotions. All of these things are what make us human and "One Day At A Time" reminds audiences of that humanity in every episode.
 
I have a 12-year-old son with mild autism and "One Day A Time" was one of his favorite shows last year. At first, I thought he was just fascinated with seeing a different and unfamiliar take on family life. But as we watched episode after episode, I listened closer to where he laughed and the scenes that seemed to resonate most with him. And I came to realize that while he might not be able to articulate it to others, what he connected with the most about the show were the moments he recognized about himself and his family. He didn't see "One Day At A Time" as a show featuring a Cuban-American family. He saw himself in their story and while their culture and point of view was different, he saw the show as partly his story as well. Even if he lives in a primarily white suburb of the Twin Cities. He watched this family work their way through conflicts large and small and it gave him an insight into how other people deal with the questions that puzzle him on a daily basis. "One Day At A Time" was at its heart a story about him and his struggles to fit in when you face a world that can seem unforgiving and confusing.
 
I'm not going to talk about what to expect in season two, because I promised him I wouldn't watch the episodes without him. He sees watching the show as part of his family experience and that might be the biggest gift provided by everyone associated with the show. "One Day At A Time" is a lot of things and everyone's takeaway from the show is likely different. But for the Ellis Family, it's a show about a family that is more like us than different. It's a humane and optimistic television series at a time when both qualities can seem like rare commodities. 

"One Day At A Time" is a reminder that the best art isn't the byproduct of flashy technology or high-concept ideas. The art that matters is the stuff that makes us feel more human, more connected to each other in a world that encourages us to focus on the things that draw us apart. "One Day At A Time" is art in that purest sense and it's also wildly entertaining. So as you sit down to binge season two, take a moment to remember who we are as a people. That shared vision is what the show represents at its best and its a good lesson to take into what I'm sure will be another chaotic and angry week of 2018.

Season two of "One Day At A Time" premieres on Netflix on Friday, January 26th, 2018.