Since 2013, streaming giant Netflix has found a niche as the home for rebooted or continued shows. From “Arrested Development,” to “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” fan-favorites have found a second life in the pop culture zeitgeist. While some of these series are more splashy than others, the model of resurrecting intellectual properties has been a huge win for Netflix. In January, another reboot made its way to the streaming service with decidedly less fanfare. Guided by legendary television producer Norman Lear, “One Day at a Time” returns to television for the first time since the 1980s. Like other Lear produced shows, “One Day at a Time” crafts powerful statements on social issues, making a surprisingly strong and important show in today’s climate.
The original series focused on a recently divorced mother raising her children in Indianapolis, Indiana. However, Lear brought on showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce to give the show a new look. The new “One Day at a Time” focuses on a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles. Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is an army veteran recently separated from her husband. Her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), has come to live with her and help raise her children (Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz). They also have an annoying but caring landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell) who frequently drops by, and a very personal relationship with Penelope’s boss, Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky). The strong ensemble elevates already great material, and their chemistry is undeniable.
Calderón Kellett drew heavily from her personal family history to build the characters, the result is an authenticity rarely found in sitcoms. Netflix’s format of 30-minute episodes aids in creating pathos-driven narratives. Rather than build action around commercial breaks, the show is free to let scenes last 7 or 8 minutes before cutting. In doing so, the show utilizes the sitcom structure that gives us an unfettered look at life in a Cuban-American family.
This authenticity lends the show to tackle some tough topics related to its subject matter. On many occasions, the family is forced into discussing the immigrant experience in ways rarely explored on television. Deportation and immigration are covered extensively in the series. The effects of both are real and give the actors real moments to showcase their talents. An early episode covers the Pedro Plan flights from Cuba in the 1960s, and devasting effects it had on families. Penelope’s background as a veteran is also pushed into the limelight, focusing on the lack of physical and mental care for our servicemen. The wage-gap, intersectional feminism, and religion are placed front and center in episodes. Rather than respond to current events, the show taps into the zeitgeist and societal issues with grace and poise.
Justina Machado is the revelation of the show. She easily carries the material from episode to episode and provides the show with a strong lead. Machado brings raw emotion to the screen and makes you very aware of the stakes for her character. Todd Grinnell absolutely slays as the comedic relief of the show. Stepping into the shoes of Schneider is a big step, but Grinnell handles his material extremely well. Grinnell perfectly sells comedy in when needed, but can also help land the emotional beats of the show.
Last but certainly not least, Rita Moreno gives one of the strongest performances of her career. As the overbearing grandmother, Moreno brings a level of gravitas to the show that creates a multi-generational dialogue about topics of sexuality, religion, and immigration. Moreno’s storied career is nothing to sneeze at, and she gives the most rounded performance on the show. It is a powerhouse performance and might be on of the strongest of 2017. Moreno, Grinnell and Machado headline the amazing cast that makes up one of the stronger families on TV today.
“One Day at a Time” is the perfect companion to “black-ish” or “Jane the Virgin.” Both series use their multicultural construction to create genuine dialogue. However, “One Day at a Time” might be the best of the three. With amazing performances, incredible writing, and genuine dialogue, “One Day at a Time” is a triumph for Netflix, . It may be one of the best new shows of 2017 and reinvigorates the possibilities of the multi-cam sitcom.