That tonight's episode of One Day at a Time immediately follows the much-anticipated series finale of Schitt's Creek is both beautiful and daring thing. With what's likely to be a record audience tuning in, the show's producers and Pop TV have chosen a real doozy of an episode to introduce newcomers to the show.
The mission of One Day at a Time, Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce's reboot of the 1975 Norman Lear sitcom of the same name, is one of both reverence for what's come before and progress forward. The comedy is very much in the tradition of Lear's shows: funny, with a huge heart, and full of Very Special Episodes tackling important issues. Of course, unlike the original sitcom, this One Day at a Time's family is Cuban-American, and must also overcome burdens including a tight income, racism, immigration issues, and more.
What makes the show such a delight is how it tackles each of these issues with such warmth and optimism. There's a triumphant spirit to the series that makes you believe the Alvarez family could take on anything and everything. But that belief is put to the test tonight, as One Day at a Time finally reaches its masturbation episode.
You know the episode I'm talking about: the one where someone walks in on someone else pulling the flesh, and at first it's totally awkward, but eventually we all learn it's natural, and the characters learn to respect each other's boundaries. However, it wouldn't be One Day at a Time if mother Penelope (Justina Machado) simply walked in on teenage son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) like so many shows have done before. Instead, it's the reverse: Alex walks in on his mom in an intimate moment with herself. (While she's watching Outlander, of all things!)
This being One Day at a Time, the conflict is largely portrayed through a comedic lens. The flipping of the script is naturally funny, with Penelope's veteran therapy group both horrified and delighted by her latest parenting drama. As she puts it, “I haven't seen terror in a man's eyes like that since Afghanistan."
Family matriarch Lydia (the legendary Rita Moreno) is aghast that her daughter masturbates, assuming she learned how in the army, while lesbian daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) is eager to talk about the health benefits of female masturbation. This all utterly humiliates Alex, who just doesn't want to talk about it.
The episode leads to a discussion of boundaries, and who's allowed to have them in a family. But instead of positioning Penelope's desire for fewer boundaries with her kids as something invasive, it's instead presented as an expression of her love: They're a very close family, she wants them to stay that way, and she doesn't want this incident to change that. But after her mother tries to set her up on a date to stop her from masturbating, she realizes that some boundaries are healthy, and relents. She realizes that boundaries don't have to create distance between family, they can actually foster better relationships instead.
This episode is as pure a distillation of what makes One Day at a Time work as you'll find. It's reverent to the tradition of the classic Very Special Episode, but it's also surprisingly subversive (and progressive) for a multi-camera comedy. It's episodes like this that make us especially thankful that Pop TV chose to save this series: there's nothing else like it on TV.
One Day at a Time airs tonight at 9:30 PM ET on Pop TV.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.