“One Day at a Time” settles back into its groove almost instantly, despite moving networks. The remake of the classic Norman Lear sitcom was picked up by Pop TV after Netflix cancelled the show following its third season. Right off the bat, the show makes a joke at the expense of its old network. “There’s nothing good on Netflix anymore,” cracks Alex (Marcel Ruiz) as the family decides what to watch for family movie night. Other than that wink, it’s business as usual for the Alvarez family. Thankfully, we never wanted much to change about them.
Season Four acts as a nice re-pilot for those unfamiliar with the Alvarez family. The visit of a census worker (Ray Romano) allows a (semi) organic way for everyone to reintroduce themselves to the audience. Family matriarch Penelope (Justina Machado), a retired Army veteran making her way in the medical field, presides over the Cuban-American family. Her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), never fails to make an entrance, being the gregarious heart and soul of the family. She dotes on Alex, the youngest son in the household and the coolest guy in his class. Meanwhile, Elena (Isabella Gomez), the oldest daughter, is amid college applications, which puts her relationship with Syd (Sheridan Pierce) in jeopardy.
“One Day at a Time” has always managed the tricky balance between good-hearted family humor and boundary-pushing topics. Over the first three seasons, it has fantastically covered LGBTQ+ and gender issues, immigration topics, class struggles, and more. What’s even more revolutionary is how all of these issues stem from the characters’ experiences, rather than feeling like a “special lesson of the week” episode. Their Cuban identity is woven into everything the Alvarez family does, and everything the world sees in them.
Unfortunately, at first glance, season four appears to have less bite than the previous seasons. “One Day at a Time” knows how to subvert a joke or traditional sitcom trope and turn it on its head. This season, the “walking in on someone masturbating” joke gets a hilarious update when Alex walks in on Penelope, prompting the family to talk about self-love. The writers love sitcom tropes and want to move them forward. The approach to the show remains excellent. Yet, hopefully, future episodes continue to push boundaries, because everything seems a bit tamer than the previous seasons.
One of the biggest through-lines for this season appears to be the characters’ romantic relationships. Penelope feels more self-conscious about her status as a single woman. She still pines for her old boyfriend, Max (Ed Quinn). Lydia takes matters into her own hands and makes Penelope a Tinder profile. Reluctantly, Penelope tries a few of these dates, though she still can’t get Max out of her head. This leads to a beautiful friend heart-to-heart with Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the Alvarez’s upstairs landlord, and ally. Grinnell steals every scene he’s in, managing to be the butt of the joke and also a warm, charismatic personality.
Elena’s relationship with Syd has always been one of the strongest elements. Elena’s coming out journey has had many speed bumps, but it’s so wonderful to see her show pride in her sexuality. Additionally, Syd’s journey as a non-binary person has also been wonderful to see. With Elena striving for Yale, the couple is going to have to make some serious decisions if she gets in. I’m excited to see where this season takes both Elena and Syd, mainly because the writers have done right by them for so long.
At its core, “One Day at a Time” feels best symbolized by Rita Moreno, it’s star and cheerleader. It brings us warmth and comfort whenever its on, while always reminding us that its balance of heart, humor, and drama is not easy. Moreno knows how to hit all three of those notes in just one flick of the curtains to her room. Luckily, the show consistently meets her at her level.
“One Day at a Time” premieres on Pop TV on Tuesday, March 24. New episodes air every Tuesday at 9:30/8:30c.
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