Let's save "One Day at a Time"

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 7:30pm

From left to right: Elena (Isabella Gomez), Alex (Marcel Ruiz), and Penelope (Justina Machado).

From left to right: Elena (Isabella Gomez), Alex (Marcel Ruiz), and Penelope (Justina Machado). Buy this photo
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On March 14, Netflix announced it was cancelling its original series One Day at a Time. The streaming giant’s decision came after several appeals by the cast, other Latinx celebrities (including Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda) and viewers to save the show.

 

On the surface, One Day At A Time is like any other family sitcom, with a close nuclear family and a wild cast of friends, but it distinguishes itself by centering around a Cuban-American veteran and her multi-generational family.

 

Replete with cultural references, the Cuban, Latinx, and recent immigrant identities permeate beyond the odd joke here or there: they drive the show. Rita Moreno – who is best known as Maria from West Side Story – plays the staunchly Cuban grandmother Lydia, who fled Cuba as a teenager in the 60s. Her desire to follow tradition brings her into conflict with her American-born grandchildren Alex (played by Marcel Ruiz) and Elena (played by Isabella Gomez), as well as her newly-divorced daughter Penelope (played by Justina Machado).

 

The show plunges headfirst into the Alvarez family’s inherent Cubanness, using white supporting characters to introduce less well-known concepts. Instead of the Alvarezs having to ditch their heritage to conform to mainstream American culture, their friends Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) and Schneider (Todd Grinnell) learn what it means to be Cuban and become part of the family.

 

One Day At A Time presents more than racial diversity: the show endeavors to cover a wide range of issues from sexual harassment to the flaws in Veteran Affairs to recreational drug use. More than simply touching on them, the series gives plenty of time to each topic and handles them sensitively. No matter how dire the situation may seem, the Alvarez's always find some kind of way to solve the problem or otherwise have a happy ending. It’s a staple of the feel-good sitcom genre, but given how serious these issues are, it is incredibly well done and never seeks to minimize the impact they can have on individuals.

From left to right: Lydia, Alex, Dr. Berkowitz, Elena, Penelope, and Schneider.

From left to right: Lydia, Alex, Dr. Berkowitz, Elena, Penelope, and Schneider. Buy this photo
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You don’t have to be Cuban or even Latinx to find the show relatable. Many of us in the broader immigrants of color community can find themselves in the Alvarez's. In one episode, Lydia warns her grandchildren that walking on the floor barefoot can cause them to catch colds. This reminded me of my Chinese grandmother scolding me for sleeping with my hair wet because cold air would rush into my follicles and give me a cold. (Obviously, neither of these bad habits are desirable, but I’m still skeptical of anything any grandma tells me that a doctor won’t.)

 

There are already so few shows starring people of color that losing One Day At A Time comes at a major cost. UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report found that there was fewer than one lead of color for every two white leads in scripted digital series alone. Not getting to see positive and deeply explored depictions of people like us informs us that our experiences are unimportant and not valued – which is far from the truth.

 

Netflix may have cancelled One Day At A Time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the series is gone for good. As showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett continues to fight for, the show can continue if picked up by another network.

 

You can support One Day At A Time by watching the three seasons on Netflix and by tweeting with the hashtag #SaveODAAT.