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Why One Day at a Time Deserved To Be Saved

The family-com couldn't end just because Netflix said so.
  • Isabella Gomez, Todd Grinnell, Justina Machado, Rita Moreno and Marcel Ruiz in One Day at a Time.
    Isabella Gomez, Todd Grinnell, Justina Machado, Rita Moreno and Marcel Ruiz in One Day at a Time.

    It's been just over a year since Netflix announced its cancellation of One Day at a Time, the sweet story of a Los Angeles nurse/single mom; her two kids; her very dramatic mother, who also lives with her; and her landlord, who doesn't exactly live with her, but not for lack of trying. Fans were galled for the obvious reasons, but also because of the tone the platform took in announcing it — first by spelling out that the reason was low viewership, even though the classy thing would have been not to call attention to it — but then by trying to earn woke points for having had the courage to have aired it in the first place: "And to anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important. The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories." Not firm enough to induce the company to find a way to continue telling this story, but what can you do?

    According to reporting, strong interest from CBS All Access was scuttled due to terms in the contract between Netflix and Sony TV, the production company behind ODAAT, such that the show could not move from Netflix to any other streaming VOD service. Enter another network in the CBS family: Pop TV, One Day at a Time's new home starting with its fourth season (while the first three seasons can still be streamed on Netflix). Let's talk about this reboot's miraculous revival, and why it proves that, this time, cosmic justice actually did prevail!

    There are so few scripted shows by and about Latinx people that TV can't afford to lose any.
    Credit to El Rey, an English-language cable network targeted to the Latinx audience, but the only one of its titles that really broke through to a mainstream audience was Matador, from Robert Rodriguez, which was canceled after one season. Netflix canceled One Day at a Time just a few weeks before the premiere of Jane The Virgin's fifth and final season; now its revival is premiering on the heels of the announcements that the Starz dramedy Vida will end with its forthcoming third season, and America Ferrera is leaving NBC's Superstore (and possibly without a farewell episode, since the production shut down early due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Presumably both Ferrera (who is a producer on both Superstore and the new Netflix dramedy Gentefied) and Vida creator Tanya Saracho will build on their successes to create more great work, but given how many very white shows there are on TV, each loss of a minority artist's voice is felt all the more keenly.

    Ditto shows about people who aren't wealthy.
    Conventional TV wisdom states that viewers want to watch stories and characters that are "aspirational" — who are comfortable, and for whom the source of that comfort is vague if it's ever mentioned at all. (How many episodes did it take before you knew what anyone on Modern Family did for a living?) The success of shows like The Conners and Shameless (and The Middle, still popular in syndication) give lie to this assumption: all kinds of people like to see themselves represented in the culture, including the ones who smuggle multi-course meals into movie theaters, as ODAAT's Penelope (Justina Machado) did in the second season. With Penelope completing her studies and earning more as a nurse practitioner, the show's third season finds her still locked in what Schneider (Todd Grinnell) calls a "scarcity mindset," but one of her moments of personal growth revolves around her challenging herself to buy a couch... partly (no spoilers) out of urgent necessity. While the show does have fun with Penelope's penny-pinching, it also has empathy for the reasons that underlie it — not a story we saw performed by any of the movie stars in Big Little Lies.

    And people who are in recovery!
    We recently used this space to tout CBS's Mom, about a mother and daughter maintaining their sobriety with the support and friendship of members at their regular AA meeting. One Day at a Time similarly deserves credit for tying its title back to its context in 12-step programs through the character of Schneider, an addict who broke his sobriety in Season 3, resulting in some of the most heartbreaking episodes of the series. Portraying the struggles of recovery in a more holistic way, with a character viewers know, is more effective and truthful than in a cop procedural where a one-off addict shows up to rob someone and then die of an overdose, unloved and unmourned. Schneider is loved both by the Alvarezes, his adopted family, and by viewers, who could all agonize over his relapse and share in his joy at returning to good health.

    Syd and Elena had barely gotten started.
    Reasonable people can disagree about how accepting society at large is of non-heterosexual relationships. What is an undeniable fact is that the 2018 gay-romance feature film Love, Simon spun off a TV series, Love, Victor, that was originally intended for Disney+, but which is now going to be on Hulu because D+ executives found it too racy, even though it's hard to imagine anything on screen going further than kissing, and even the animated princesses do that. Anyway, ODAAT has always positioned itself as a family-friendly show, and since some (...all) families include members who aren't straight, that means telling queer stories, too — primarily involving Elena (Isabella Gomez).

    Toward the end of the show's first season, Elena figured out she was a lesbian and started coming out to her closest family members. In the second season, she connected with a social group of other queer teens, including non-binary Syd (Sheridan Pierce). Syd and Elena started dating, eventually exclusively, and in the third season the two had sex, with all the careful planning and enthusiastic consent you would expect of a perfectionist like Elena. The people were not ready to say goodbye to this adorable couple!

    Penelope's stories tell the bittersweet truth about single motherhood.
    I'm not a single mother, but I had one, and the original series of which this is a remake has always been beloved by my (now married) mom for not sanitizing the experience — the complications of dating with kids in the picture; having to continue dealing with an ex because he's your children's dad; not being able to provide all the indulgences your family might want on one adult's salary. Because Penelope's ex-husband Victor (James Martinez) didn't respond well when Elena came out to him and took a long time to accept the truth about her sexual identity, Penelope had to be both parents to Elena in even more ways than most single moms do, while also dealing with her own mental health journey as a war veteran with PTSD and related issues. Season 3 found Penelope dating very hot, very tall EMT Max (Ed Quinn), but ultimately breaking up with him because he wanted to have a baby and she didn't — a tough decision, but one only a mature woman with a lot of life experience can make. However, Penelope isn't always a tower of strength; single moms have needs, and the way she satisfies them in the new season's third episode throws her into a screamingly awkward storyline that will reassure viewers who might have feared the move to broadcast TV might turn the show G-rated.

    Alex is only now becoming a character.
    Can you believe you've read all these words and none of them have been about Penelope's other child, Alex (Marcel Ruiz)? That's probably because the show hasn't really known what to do with him. Alex is cute; he likes sneakers; Penelope's mother Lydia (Rita Moreno) treats him like the Second Coming. But if the three Season 4 episodes provided to critics are any indication, Alex is actually going to get some substantial plots. (And the camera operators are going to have to move further back: Marcel Ruiz got tall!)

    Rita Moreno.
    That's it. That's the tweet.

    One Day at a Time makes its Pop TV debut this Tuesday at 9:30 PM ET.

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    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: One Day at a Time (2017 series), Netflix, Pop TV, Gloria Calderon Kellett, Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, Latinx TV