I have never seen an episode of the first version of One Day at a Time, the CBS sitcom about a single mother with two daughters in Indianapolis that aired from 1975 to 1984, but there is something about Netflix’s new reboot of the show that makes me feel like the people involved in the original would be OK with what they see.
The new version was released on Netflix today. This time, the show is centered around a Latina woman—Cuban-American veteran and single mother Penelope (Justina Machado)—along with her daughter Elena, son Alex, and, of course, her exuberant Cuban-born mother Lydia, played by the legendary Rita Moreno. The show is as cheesy as they come, complete with a live studio audience track and Hallmark-certified feel-good moments. But it also delivers a realistic look at the effort to preserve cultural heritage within an American context, allowing the show to take its place next to other shows like Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish.
There was something refreshing in how classic sitcom tropes were first trotted out and then taken to new places in the first handful of episodes I watched. In the pilot, the main arc is that Elena does not want to have a quinceañera, because she says it’s a misogynist tradition. You see, she’s still a young, woke, critical-minded daughter (who hates wearing makeup!) much like Topanga, Lisa Simpson, and Alex Dunphy before her.
But rather than take the route that so many other shows (such as The Great Indoors) do—that is, flat-out mocking Elena's millennial points of view—the older characters actually engage what she’s talking about, encouraging a genuine interaction of ideas. Sure, Lydia does undermine the kids, particularly Elena, and poke fun, but teasing out these cultural and generational differences seems to be the heart of the show, and the episodes have a certain robust compassion that keeps them effective throughout the season.
One Day At A Time also captures the smaller moments that come with living in a minority household. For instance, Elena doesn’t always know what’s going on because she doesn’t speak Spanish, even though her younger brother does.
There are some potentially troublesome factors in the show. While Moreno definitely steals the show as the feisty grandma who always make an extravagant entrance (a trope in itself), with some jokes I did sometimes wonder if I was laughing at the dialogue itself, or Moreno’s delightful execution, or simply the accent of a Cuban immigrant. Moreno is an icon who has been very outspoken about overcoming stereotypical roles, and I'm sure she would have complained about anything she found objectionable, but, as someone who has seen too many shows that wring laughs out of the accents of characters from my own background, some situations did give me pause a couple times
The show also delves into mental health and depression, church and atheism, and veteran's issues, with that all too familiar corny but compassionate tone. And while the end of each episode does bring a very typical, perfect, inoffensive resolution in the form of Let’s Talk About It, Kiss, and Make Up, it never feels tired or stale. The result is just the kind of the cheesy multicultural sitcom we've been needing.