One Day at a Time is a new imagining of the long-running series of the same name from the 70s and 80s. It’s streaming now on Netflix. Some things remain the same, some things are different. The new version is as charming and funny as its ancestor.
The similarities are it’s still a single mom with two kids and an intrusive building super who is like part of the family. It’s a comedy with serious moments in a half-hour format. The set is the same one used before.
What’s new? The family is Cuban. The grandmother lives in the apartment. Penelope or Lupe (Justina Machado) is mom. She’s a nurse just home from a tour of duty as an Army medic in Afghanistan. She’s divorcing her Army husband and struggling to make ends meet.
The remaining key characters in the ensemble include Lupe’s 14 year old daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez), 12 year old son Alex (Marcel Ruiz), and her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno).
Schneider, the super, is played by Todd Grinnell. Lupe’s boss, Dr. Berkowitz is played by Stephen Tobolowsky.
The cast is perfection. Justina Machado carries much of the action admirably well. Rita Moreno was, is and always shall be fabulous. They gelled with conviction as a family.
As an updated remake of an old favorite, One Day at a Time worked. I liked many things about it. It made me laugh out loud often. The story lines were hard hitting with episodes devoted to immigration and deportations that break up families, PTSD, a VA unresponsive to vets in need, discrimination in many forms including equal pay, making it as a Latina, parenting, and a child coming out as gay. All while being funny.
It looked easy with this great cast. The writers deserve credit for making it feel so natural.
The mix of Spanish and English used by the characters wasn’t explained or translated. I like that. I’ve lived in the southwest all my life and I know a lot of Spanish. Maybe that gives me an advantage. But the way Spanish was used isn’t a barrier to anyone. The plot was clear at all times, even to anyone who doesn’t know Spanish. I found it much easier to follow than the Yorkshire accent I struggle to decipher in Last Tango in Halifax, and that’s English!
Women directors and women writers contributed to the season equally with men. There must have been some Cubans in the bunch because they nailed it. The dramatic emotions, the loud arguments, the loving moments, the tears, the laughter. It all fit. Add the music, the dancing, the food, the Café Cubano, and the obsession with Elena’s quinceañera or quince and it’s as Cuban as abuelita Lydia, who was the finest dancer in all of Cuba in her day.
The entire season lead up to the climactic 15th birthday celebration for Elena. She didn’t want one. She didn’t want to invite a boy. She didn’t want to wear a dress. A quince is a patriarchal tradition steeped in making women chattel. Etc., etc., etc. After a lot of arguing, we learn Elena has feelings for women that make her pretty sure she’s gay. Her moments coming out to her family were handled beautifully. Each member of the family had different reactions to the news; that was handled beautifully, too.
Mackenzie Phillips, who was in the original One Day at a Time, makes a guest appearance as a counselor at a female vet’s therapy session Lupe attends. This call out to the past makes me wonder if Valerie Bertinelli might show up in some future episode.
There were call outs to current pop culture – web apps, web sites, movies. At one point Rita Moreno quieted a crowd by yelling, “Hey you guys!” from her Electric Company days. It fit the situation. It was one of a very few times Rita Moreno dropped the Cuban accent for a quick second.
Norman Lear executive produced the series. Gloria Estefan sings a new version of the theme song with a Cuban beat.
The series filmed with a studio audience. When Rita Moreno entered in episode 1 she received a huge reception. Mackenzie Phillips got one as well. Luckily the laughter of the audience didn’t irritate the way a laugh track does – I was laughing right along with the folks seeing it live.
If you are too young to have known and loved the original One Day at a Time, fear not. You don’t need it. This series is as modern and relevant as today’s news and stands on its own merit.