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One Day at a Time's return is a reminder that we’re all just trying to live our best sitcom lives amid coronavirus quarantine

  • "One day at a time — right? It’s how we’re all existing at the moment, in covid-19 isolation, apart and yet so strangely together," says Hank Stuever. "And, it occurred to me while enjoying some new episodes from the fourth season of the revived and recently rescued One Day at a Time (premiering Tuesday on Pop TV), that we’re all just trying to live our best sitcom lives: Confined mainly to the living room and the adjoining kitchen (sitcom sets practically invented the open floor plan), with some occasional scenes in bedrooms or hallways, venturing to other locations only when it’s essential to the plot, and keeping our conflicts and resolutions to the half-hour mark. That’s the dream, anyhow; results within your own zany situation comedy may begin to resemble a darker and extremely dry comedy. Still, if anything in recent culture taught the American family — in whatever form it takes — about consistent closeness and good-natured togetherness, it’s the sitcom. The format is as old as television itself (descended directly from radio and theater), so ingrained in our consciousness that we recognize it in any language: A group of people, sorted into tribal archetypes, share in an event or a minor crisis. Something new is always happening, to the extent that everything must always stay the same. The day begins, a problem stirs the household and creates chaos; people argue and snap at one another; then they share in mutual consolation and express their solidarity and love. The day ends. It’s called an episode...We are talking here about the pure sitcom, and its persistence — the kind that is filmed in front of a studio audience on a soundstage, using multiple cameras, rehearsed and finessed all week until taping, when every line, every pratfall is executed with amusing and admirable precision. The audience is goosed into laughing harder than they usually might. If you’ve ever tried to imagine your own life as a sitcom, you had to supply that laugh track in your head, as all mediocre sitcoms must."


    • One Day at a Time's Pop TV debut is desperately needed amid the pandemic: "At another moment, the show’s fourth season would have felt like a referendum on the pitfalls and weaknesses of Netflix’s streaming model, an experiment in what happens when a show originally designed for streaming is retooled for weekly TV running on a traditional scheduling grid," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "But right now, the return of ODAAT is a referendum on something else — it’s about TV’s capacity to help us process our deepest anxieties about the world." VanArendonk adds: "We don’t watch TV in a vacuum, though. One Day at a Time will be returning for its fourth season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when a huge majority of its viewers will be operating under social-distancing procedures, shelter-at-home requirements, or, at the very least, enormous clouds of anxiety. So it’s worth pointing out two things that are simultaneously true about ODAAT: It is an especially good show for a time when the world is full of frightening unknowns, and the reason that’s true is because ODAAT is the same as it’s always been."
    • The transition from streaming to ad-based cable isn't entirely seamless: "One Day at a Time’s biggest struggle is transferring from a streaming service meant for binge-watching, with no commercials, to a regular time slot every week," says Kristen Lopez. "The first three episodes made available to press focus on the humorous elements of the Alvarezes’ life but they feel like disparate pieces. The series has always been a sitcom, but it feels more classically regimented into an act structure than it did previously. At just barely 20 minutes it feels like series creators Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce are working to beat the clock. The catchy Gloria Estefan-performed theme song is significantly truncated and commercial breaks don’t feel naturally organic, or maybe that’s because fans of the show are just used to not having them. More importantly, everyone outside of Penelope lacks the same balance to their plotlines."
    • The new One Day at a Time has a lot to say: "Penelope’s veterans’ support group, for instance, recurs frequently as a sounding board, one of the rare instances of a sitcom’s paying close attention to the emotional and practical challenges of vets," says James Poniewozik. "The show is money-conscious, race-conscious, gender-conscious, but too funny and heartfelt to feel self-conscious. Where past seasons have taken on immigration, mortality and intra-family homophobia, the new season focuses on the characters’ romantic relationships (or for Penelope, the lack thereof) and on the stresses of having a close — sometimes too close — extended family... One Day at a Time is not too proud to handle these story lines with awkward jokes and double-entendres. But it grounds its sitcom premises with real stakes and character history — in this case, Penelope’s being torn between loneliness and wanting to keep the sense of self she has regained since her divorce."
    • One Day at a Time successfully transforms from a bingeworthy to a weekly series: "The novelty of the season extends past the screen, as critics and audiences get used to the idea of weekly installments instead of a tear-and-laughter-filled binge," says Danette Chavez. "ODAAT nailed the balance between long-form and episodic storytelling in its first season, and manages to keep it up in the move to a more traditional outlet. The show lends itself just as well to weekly visits as a weekend-long stay, though the change does make it a bit trickier to judge the season as a whole. But given One Day at a Time’s knack for midseason standout episodes and exceptionally moving finales, it’s say to safe that this isn’t it for the show—there’s a lot of life left in this reboot, so get ready to have a ball."
    • One Day at a Time may have a new home, but it is every inch the same show—full of warmth and empathy, dedicated to telling stories about families and all that they face together
    • The fourth-season episodes also make clear that the core cast has become a perfectly calibrated comedy machine
    • Why One Day at a Time took a jab at Netflix in its Pop TV premiere: "We weren’t even going to do (it), to be honest," co-showrunner Mike Royce tells TVLine. "I think it was (executive producer) Dan Signer (who pitched it), I could be wrong… We filmed a couple different versions. We had one joke that didn’t have anything to do with (Netflix), but you know what? (We decided to) have a little fun." Fellow co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett adds: "I was just going to say that we’ve seen everybody in the year [since we were cancelled]. We’ve seen (Netflix’s Chief Content Officer) Ted (Sarandos) and (Vice President of Original Content) Cindy (Holland) and all of our executives… It’s all fine. We were more delighted by how the media covered it." Royce, a veteran of Everybody Loves Raymond, also explains Ray Romano's casting.

    TOPICS: One Day at a Time (2017 series), Netflix, Pop TV, Gloria Calderon Kellett, Justina Machado, Mike Royce, Ray Romano, Coronavirus