One Day at a Time Is The Sitcom You Should Be Watching

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

The past few years has been chock full of reboots and remakes of television shows. Nostalgia is definitely alive and well, especially on streaming services. Many of them carry our favorite old TV shows, and have been leading the wave of reboots. Netflix gave us Queer Eye and Fuller House, but it’s with their updated version of the 70s sitcom One Day at a Time that they’ve really struck gold.

One Day at a Time is everything a good reboot should be, fresh and current, but also gives you those nostalgic undertones. It’s easy to go off-base with a sitcom, but this is one of the best on television right now.

One Day at a Time focuses on the Alvarez family: single mom Penelope, her two children, Elena and Alex, and her widowed mother Lydia, played by the national treasure that is Rita Moreno. It follows the basic premise of the original, including the hapless building handyman Schneider. Rounding out the cast is Penelope’s boss, Dr. Berkowitz.

It is definitely a sitcom, but typical of a show produced by television legend Norman Lear, the fact that it’s supposed to be funny doesn’t stop it from tackling heavy subjects. The Alvarez family is Cuban-America, Lydia having immigrated back in the early 1960s as a teen. Penelope is a veteran of the Afghanistan War, and her estranged husband is still enlisted in the Army, working security in Iraq. Over the course of the show’s two seasons, it deals with a host of complex and current issues with the depth of a show like black-ish, but with the same warm heart of the sitcoms of yesteryear.

Penelope carries the weight of her family on her shoulders with grace and fiercess. She has to prove to her mother (and to herself) that she is capable of being a single parent and keeping the family afloat. While trying to deal with the everyday stress that entails, she is also battling depression and PTSD from serving in combat. Eventually, she does join a therapy group for other female veterans, though she doesn’t initially tell her family.

The overall arc of the first season is Elena’s quinceanera, a party that her mother and grandmother have to talk her into having. Elena, is very much a “social justice warrior” — as much as I hate that term. She’s all about smashing the patriarchy, taking care of our environment, and combating all the -isms she can. Basically, she is the teenager we hope to raise one day.

She cares about her family even more than she cares about social justice, and empowers her mother to ask for more money when she discovers her male co-worker who is less qualified makes more money than she does. She butts heads with her abuelita, who is very old school and often calls her activism “annoying,” but the love is definitely there. She is the antithesis to her much cooler little brother, and we find out quickly that she has no friends because of her activism. The show also handles her coming out story in a very beautiful way that leads to a long term thread for the narrative.

The character of Schneider is probably the closest to his original counterpart, mostly in tone. Schneider is the building’s super, a job he only has because his father owns the building. He is the epitome of rich, white male privilege, flitting from one ridiculous whim to the next, but he does use his privilege for good, and makes a genuine effort to confront it with the help of the family. Because of this, he slowly becomes another member of the family, even going so far as to secretly learn Spanish so that he can speak the family’s language, literally.

One Day at a Time isn’t afraid to tackle very real and timely subject matters either. Immigration is a theme that resurfaces several times during the two seasons, and one of the most poignant moments is when Lydia, the grandmother, tells her family about how she came to the United States from Cuba during Operation Pedro Pan. We see the challenges that veterans face in this country, from the stories told in the therapy group, to the pure comedy of Penelope on the phone with the VA to get an appointment with a doctor.

Over the course of both seasons, we learn of the very real effect PTSD has, not only on soldiers, but their families. Racism is only the focus of one episode, but it is still very real for any person of color living in America today. As a single parent myself, I can attest that the show’s depiction of the struggles associated with single parenting is spot on. I find myself nodding along and throwing up an “amen” to Penelope’s concerns and struggles often.

But perhaps what the show does best is balance these heady and difficult topics with brilliant moments of levity. You will laugh and cry several times in one 22-minute episode, so make sure you have tissues, especially for the season finale of both seasons.

But if all that hasn’t convinced you, let me tell you the real reason to watch this show — Rita Moreno. The woman is in her 80s in real life and plays a 73-year-old grandmother on the show with such believability that you will want to demand her birth certificate to make sure she’s not lying about her age. She is agile (she dances many times on the show), sharp as a tack, and her sense of comedic timing is just perfect. It is no surprise that they tapped this entertainment veteran — who was the first woman of color to win all four awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — to play the family’s loving abuelita. She is the most perfect grandma ever on television — razor sharp, loving to the point of smothering, and fierce as fuck.

One Day at a Time is the sitcom that we’ve been searching for; it is the perfect blend of current and old school, the characters feel like they’re people you know, and it’s the perfect amount of feel good for this very bleak world. I binged the show in a week, and have already gotten several people, including my mother, who watched the original, hooked as well.

Everybody needs to go watch it so we get another season, because I’m not ready to say goodbye to the Alvarez family anytime soon.

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