As a new series ringing in the new year, Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” ponders the teenage experience and celebration of family in a revival of the classic 1975 series of the same name. While the term “reboot” may be used to describe many throwback series, “revival” is the more accurate term for “One Day at a Time” — though the sitcom may be reminiscent of its namesake, it’s exclusively one of a kind.
The series opens on the Alvarez family, a Cuban-American household that struggles to find balance between dueling cultures. In a classic battle of the ages, Justina Machado (“The Purge: Anarchy”) portrays Penelope, a recently divorced single mom juggling the trials of divorce, work and, of course, teenage hormones. As hard as Penelope works to raise her children in a world of opportunity, her children push back harder, with technology and left-wing viewpoints. Opinions are more specifically propagated by Elena (Isabella Gomez, “Matador”), Penelope’s feminist teenage daughter who refuses to participate in her own “quinceañera,” a coming-of-age party for 15-year old girls, as she feels the cultural celebration is rooted in misogyny. These generational arguments, both with equally compelling points, are ultimately what drives this series and makes it so captivating.
What’s so interesting about “One Day at a Time” is that their arguments are never idle bickering. Rather, they are deep conversations that ponder the larger issues of money, race and class. So while Penelope might push for her daughter’s appreciation of her Cuban heritage, Elena equally fights for recognition as a modern feminist. All the while, “abuela” Lydia (Rita Moreno, “West Side Story”) and shopaholic son Alex (Marcel Ruiz, “Snowfall”) balance out the mother and daughter with antics of their own. While Lydia serves as a reminder of the family’s Cuban heritage, Alex is a reminder of the economic struggle and how they’ve persevered over the years, despite lacking a prominent father figure. From talks of antidepressants to the war in Afghanistan, this revival is taking a modern spin to the American family.
Looking back on the pilot episode, you can see that “One Day at a Time” succeeds where “Fuller House” falls short — capturing that old-school sitcom vibe without falling into cheesy material. While, at times, some aspects tread that thin line, this reboot focuses on family struggles more than pulling some quick laughs. One of the few weaknesses lies in the hipster landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell, “Nesting”), who offers advice to Penelope’s children with a side-dish of cool attitude and urban slang that falls short of convincing and moves straight into the realm of awkwardness. Even if this is the character trait the series is pulling for, the lines are often overzealous in delivery, breaking the sincerity of the series with an inward cringe.
Overall, the Alvarez family is dynamically different from the family of Netflix’s recent revival of the “Full House” series. Not only in race, but in the dynamics of a working American family, struggling to make ends meet from day to day. With an unapologetic look inside the modern family and the struggles of cultural heritage and appreciation, “One Day at a Time” is plunged back onto our screens as a driving force in the world of sitcoms. Although there is still the fluffiness of a sitcom present in Netflix’s revival, the touch of reality makes “One Day at a Time” unique and well-worth the watch.
The first season of “One Day at a Time” is currently streaming in its entirety on Netflix.