The 1990s and early 2000s were quite fertile for the sitcom insurgency. Series like ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends’ would redefine the genre, while ‘How I Met Your Mother’ tried to revitalize it without much success – at least when we remember the meager and rushed ending. Of course, when we think about situation comedies, usually set in a few settings and with the mandatory presence of a faithful audience, it is almost immediate to remember how the Disney Channel also made the genre viral with children’s creations that would also help leverage the careers of well-known names in the contemporary entertainment industry – and, at first sight,, ‘One Day at a Time’ seems to be taken from the channel that became responsible for saturating the sitcoms to the maximum.
Fortunately, the series actually goes much deeper than it appears and manages to function as a subtle drama. coming-of-age and a hilarious family comedy that brings unusual characters to the small screen. In the first episode, we are introduced to the Alvarez family, with direct Cuban descent who moved to Los Angeles during the dictatorial era of Fidel Castro, whose structure is basically matriarchal. The person responsible for taking care of everyone is Penelope (Justina Machado), a protective mother who practically has a very unique personality for everything she has done in her life: in addition to working part-time as a nurse, she served in the Army during the war in Afghanistan and is now going through a troubled divorce with her traumatized husband, who fought by her side and developed numerous problems – refusing to seek help.
At first, it would be very easy to fall into the narrative conventionalisms of similar audiovisual productions. However, the creators Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce they make a point of straying from any formulas as much as they can, offering an interesting perspective that draws mostly on different generations. Penelope is the generation of the 1970s that saw the world change in a brutal way and, despite not having all the possible opportunities, does everything to ensure that her children Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) can achieve all their dreams. And even her children shy away from the expected constructs: Elena is a militant, feminist fifteen-year-old who has a very strong class consciousness, while her younger brother cares about her appearance and her position on the school’s baseball team.
The trio has a gigantic chemistry that practically overflows from the small screens, but none of them steals the spotlight. The industry veteran Rita Moreno, returning in flawless glory as Lydia, Penelope’s mother. She represents the classic in a fun, contemporary way free from any constraints, with a complex personality while delivering some of the best lines – as irreverent as her character. Interestingly, while his quick responses provide the dynamism that a plot like this needs, the drama moments are architected with extreme caution and placed in gripping and moving climactic scenes – indeed, it is very difficult to hold back tears when Lydia recalls her troubled childhood.
The backdrop of the first season is restricted to Elena’s long-awaited fifteenth birthday party, one of the traditions of Cuban culture that Penelope and her mother decided to keep – even immersed in the North American way of life. THE quinceañera is mentioned in basically every episode, but not loosely, but rather in order to provide a certain framework for the insurgency of other extremely important issues, including issues of gender, inheritance, compulsory colonialism, sexual orientation, and many other things. In the first few chapters, Elena deals with the loss of her best friend due to the illegal immigration policy, in addition to coming out as a lesbian to her family; Penelope deals with unbearable pain and trauma from the past that she is unable to share with her family; and Lydia, even breaking our expectations, uses her dark past as a way to keep everyone inside the small apartment together.
Of course, eventually they all end up functioning as comic escape, but it’s Schneider (Todd Grinnell) who also gains fertile ground as the owner of the building and a not-so-subtle neighbor who occasionally participates in family gatherings and weekend dinners, in addition to trying to present himself as a deconstructed heterosexual white man and, finally, repeating the same speeches ever. Anyway, Schneider represents the majority and privileged class that at least has some sense of its place in society and always wants to learn what it doesn’t know.
At a certain point, mainly to conclude the small plots that begin and complete in the same episode, the formulas of the sitcoms speak louder and drain a little of the brightness and originality of the show. However, it is very easy to forget about these slips due to the applaudable performances of the cast in general and the beautiful and almost fabulous message that it decides to deliver to the viewers. And it is precisely in season finale that these problems speak louder and put in check a traditional family structure in favor of diversity and acceptance – and this is shown with a unique sensitivity that already gives name to the game for the following year.
‘One Day at a Time’ reaches a much higher level than it promises us. In addition to bringing important discussions to the public, it rescues the glory of the comic genre with very intelligent dialogues that start laughing countless times without strength and without saturation.