One Day at a Time, season 2, is a perfect example of a hard-hitting comedy series. It takes important issues and sets them up in a way that makes sense, makes incisive points, and makes comedy while doing it. One Day at a Time is complete excellence in every way. Beware the spoilers.
The Cuban-American family living in a small apartment in Echo Park stars Justina Machado as the mom, Penelope. The abuelita Lydia is played by Rita Moreno. The two kids are Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz). Filling out the main cast are Todd Grinnell as the annoying Schneider and Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Berkowitz, Penelope’s boss and Lydia’s sort-of boyfriend.
Not a second was wasted before jumping on immigration and racism issues. The current political situation cries out for a human point of view that isn’t funneled out of the White House. One Day at a Time has that to offer and does it well. Themes included deportations, racial slurs, hate speech, and colorism.
Elena’s gayness is a recurring topic in season 2. She attends numerous gay marches and protest rallies. In the episode “To Zir, with Love,” Elena brings home several friends. When they introduce themselves they also give their preferred pronouns. The pronouns ranged through she/her, they/them and ze/zir.
It’s a bit of a stretch for Lydia to figure out those pronouns, but Elena gets to deliver some of the best lines ever when she describes who is going to the next thing. The various pronouns created something like the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first” routine, but it was perfectly serious and clear to Elena what she meant. To old ears, like mine and Lydia’s, it takes some translating to understand and initially sounded funny. But the topic of gender identity isn’t funny and I’m glad One Day at a Time took it on in such a meaningful way.
One of her protest pals, Syd (Sheridan Pierce) becomes Elena’s girlfriend, after some awkward beginning moves. At one point they did Tarzan yells at each other that were “Me, gay!” before they trusted their gaydar and smooched on the fire escape.
Here’s a bit of Syd’s feminist big ask for the Homecoming dance from @JarettSays:
— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) January 28, 2018
Penelope ran into a man she knew in Kabul while in the Army. His name is Max (Ed Quinn) and he’s approximately twice as tall as Justina Machado. They quickly established that they were both divorced and just as quickly found themselves in bed. Penelope didn’t want a relationship – she was too busy with work and parenting and school. All she wanted to do with Max was “climb him like a beanstalk.” But of course it lead to more than 45 minutes of sex once a week when she had her only bit of free time. Are they going to be exclusive or not? Is he her boyfriend or merely her “junk buddy?”
One Day at a Time is complete excellence in every way.While Penelope is struggling to define her connection to Max, Lydia and Dr. Berkowitz decide maybe they are not exclusive. Lydia insists they are nothing more than friends, but when Dr. Berkowitz takes Esme (Ivonne Coll) to the opera, Lydia follows him there.
I loved the scene between Rita Moreno and Ivonne Coll – two amazing Latinx characters in the #EldersRock category in a face off. I’ve come to love Ivonne Coll from Jane the Virgin and Switched at Birth. And everyone knows Rita Moreno is a certified legend. Getting them together in front of the same camera was a whole season’s worth of wonderful in one spot. They had one too-short scene in the bathroom of the opera house, but it was a gem.
Things go well for Penelope and Max. Happy, Penelope foolishly stops going to her group therapy sessions. Group therapy is led by Mackenzie Phillips from the original One Day at a Time series. Always nice to see her show up. Penelope stops taking her antidepressants, too.
No therapy, no drugs: it’s a perfect mess. The episode, “Hello, Penelope,” gives Justina Machado a chance at some meaty acting as Penelope slips deeper and deeper into a depression. Not that Justina doesn’t have comedy chops, but she spent a good deal of season 2 with tears running down her face. It wasn’t only this one episode. Big Cuban emotions are a theme, but the delicate treatment of depression was not part of the big Cuban emotions theme. It was a medical problem and serious.
Everyone got their moments in front of the camera in season 2. And each person gave their all. Or to put it another way, the acting was excellent all round.
Elena’s father Vic (James Martinez) broke his daughter’s heart in season 1 when he refused to dance with her dressed in a suit at her quince. With the help of Alex, Elena and her dad had a tentative reconciliation in season 2. He’s still not 100% on board with having a gay daughter, but he’s making progress.
The episodes around Vic and fatherhood included some nice flashbacks to when Elena and Alex were born. It showed how much they were loved and wanted. It showed them moving into the apartment when Lydia was younger and her beloved Berto (Tony Plana) was still alive. It showed Vic deciding to reenlist after 9/11.
There were many call outs to pop culture: TV shows, movies, singers. My favorite revolved around why Lydia never voted. Elena had so many issues she wanted to be sure Lydia voted for. The discussion circled around citizenship and voting for quite a while. Finally Lydia admitted she hadn’t wanted to give up her identity as Cubano to become a citizen. Penelope asks “Don’t you like being in this country?” Lydia answers as Anita from West Side Story with that perfect staccato beat from the song “America.” Lydia says, “I like to be in America.” Penelope comes right back with “I know you do,” keeping the beat. They delivered these lines with straight faces but I was clapping and yelling in my living room.
Finally both Lydia and Schneider, who’s Canadian, decide to study for their citizenship exams.
Speaking of Schneider, he’s such a schmuck. He’s a caricature of the privileged white man. He’s both useless and clueless.
Luckily, every once in a while he’s something more than a running idiot-white-guy joke. He helps Penelope when she’s depressed. He teaches Elena handyman skills. Todd Grinnell never wears the tool belts Pat Harrington Jr. wore in the original One Day at a Time. But handy ma’am Elena does, and proudly. In season 2 we see how lonely Schneider is and how much he longs to be a part of the Alvarez family.
In summary, this was a superlative season with heartfelt drama, hilarious comedy, brilliant writing, and outstanding performances. The final couple of episodes were perfection. Can it please be season 3 right now?
One Day at a Time was most often directed by Pamela Fryman or Phill Lewis. These women directors were also used in season 2: Patricia Fass Palmer, Kimberly McCullough and Gloria Calderón Kellett.
The series was created by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce. The series is a Netflix exclusive.