‘One Day at a Time’ is here to save us all

Sunday, March 29, 2020 - 4:55pm

NOSELL

Pop TV

This is it. A little over a year since Netflix pulled the plug on the critically-acclaimed Latinx-centered family sitcom, “One Day at a Time,” and after numerous fan campaigns and a last minute save by POP TV, the show has finally returned to our screens. Regardless of whether you’ve watched the series from the beginning — either the 1975 original created by Norman Lear or the reboot in 2017 — or are only discovering it for the first time, the premiere is very aware of its need to appeal to both audiences. Becoming the first ever show to be saved by a linear television network from a streaming platform, the Cuban-American Alvarez family has no problem sticking it to their old platform with the son Alex (Marcel Ruiz, “Breakthrough”) declaring, “there’s nothing good on Netflix anymore.” 

The premiere focuses on reintroducing us to the Alvarez family, who have all changed over the course of the last three seasons, while still retaining their most beloved qualities. Penelope (Justina Machado, “Jane the Virgin”) is still a hard-loving single mother, now a nurse practitioner. That doesn’t stop her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno, “West Side Story”), from trying to retain her status as the matriarch of the household. Elena (Isabella Gomez, “Big Hero 6: The Series”) remains an overachieving, lovable and preachy high school dork. Alex is a cool teenager (seriously, that’s all there is to him), while Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky, “Silicon Valley”) and the Alvarezes’ landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell, “Grace and Frankie”) are the opposite of that and are the essential not-blood-related overstay-their-welcome family members.

With the show’s transition from a streaming service to cable channel, episodes are shorter, as they must fit within the 21-minute window. Unfortunately, that meant cutting the addictively catchy theme song down to a simple title card. Aside from that, “One Day” maintains its balance of socially conscious storylines with family comedy, like when Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”) had a cameo role as a census taker. Penelope slams the door in his face while Elena stresses the importance of participating in the census, highlighting the generational gap. Or Penelope grappling with the fact that being a single “badass feminist” and wanting to be in a relationship because you’re feeling alone aren’t always mutually exclusive. It’s also not always subtle in its messages — like when Romano reminds the Alvarezes that the census does not ask about citizenship. It’s these kinds of conversations that make the Alvarezes uniquely Latino and entirely American.

It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds, given that its move to cable also means episodes will be released on a weekly basis, rather than all at once. This makes the show feel too structured at times, as a certain amount of the plot must be accomplished within a specific amount of time before the commercial break. One of the things that drew me to “One Day” initially was how it differed from most multi-camera sitcoms in that the episodes were a little longer, and how it perfectly balanced season-long arcs with episodic storylines. While I wouldn’t expect the latter to change, the shortened episode run times give the impression that the writers are racing against the clock to fit into unnatural feeling act breaks. This could simply be due to fans of the show having to get used to the new format. One thing that was obvious, however, was the lack of balancing plotlines outside of Penelope’s. Still, it’s safe to say that the humor and heart of “One Day at a Time” has been captured. 

With the coronavirus pandemic halting production on several television shows, who knows how many more episodes we’ll get. Even if there are some elements that we’ll miss — like the slightly longer episodes — it’s better than no new episodes at all. All I have to say is thank you to POP TV for taking a chance on a show I will excitedly tune in to every week.