Warning: A few spoilers ahead!
With full episodes dedicated to controversial, timely topics such as the stakes and impacts of immigration and deportation, contemplation of religion, and the realities of navigating single parenting, the revival of the ’70s sitcom of the same name, One Day at a Time is the most progressive new comedy we’ve seen since the premiere of Modern Family. The show revolves around Penelope Alvarez, a war veteran who finds herself in single motherhood once she becomes separated from her husband due to his refusal to come to terms with his health issues resulting from PTSD. Penelope, along with the help and often unwanted guidance of her mother Lydia and overenthusiastic landlord Schneider, struggles to juggle her job and the challenges she faces in raising two bold, independent children who she’s determined to provide with more freedom and opportunity than she had growing up.
The multi-camera sitcom is a filming concept that can be polarizing to audiences as it can sometimes feel as if intimacy with the characters is lost, but in the case of One Day at a Time, every character who makes up this cast is vibrant and emotionally relevant enough to sustain the multiple camera use. The actors who make up the core cast of this show are stellar, and are the bedrock of what makes this show so relatable and refreshing. If you’re not accustomed to watching a sitcom with a laugh track, that can take a few episodes to adjust to. The jokes roll continuously throughout the duration of the show, causing the laugh track to be a bit of a distraction and a slightly unnerving nudge to the viewer that something is supposed to be funny, but after a couple episodes it just becomes white noise. The absence of the laugh track during the more solemn, insightful moments on the show magnifies the emotional impact of these moments even more, emphasizing the already understood nude that the show is speaking to serious issues even while creating comedy.
One Day at at Time, in its modern reboot form, benefits from the Netflix platform, allowing the viewer to become invested in the character arcs and storylines with a continuous flow of episodes that tell one overarching family story. The show also takes advantage of the commercial-free perk that comes with Netflix release to give each episode a thirty minute runtime, allowing a single episode to have the room to flesh out an individual plot or character within the breadth of the bigger picture.
The episode lengths and binge-worthy platform give the show an advantage in its presentation of the beautifully crafted, tactful, and emotionally charged coming out story of one of the main characters of the show. During the episodes leading up to her coming out as a lesbian to her parents, this character is provided with the space to wrestle with her own journey of sexual identity along with the mental and emotional preparation of acknowledging this discovery to her family and friends. The strategy of showing the self-exploration prior to expanding the focus to the reactions of those around her allows for more focus on each step of the process. We get to watch her figure out that when she imagines falling in love, she pictures a woman. We, as lesbian and other queer-identified women, can relate to her effort to try to conform to the expected norm and date the most popular boy she knows, rationalizing that if she’s ever going to love a boy it would be him.
Once we watch this character feel secure in who she is and where she sees herself, the show has the opportunity to shift the focus to her support system and their reaction and acceptance. We often see television shows and films handle this situation by showcasing either one extreme or the other, a seamless transition or a brutal rejection. Few times have we been given the chance to watch a family handle someone’s coming out in the way that reflects a similar journey to the one many loved ones actually experience, but are afraid to acknowledge. One Day at a Time spends the entire episode following the journey a mother takes to come to terms with a new vision for her daughter’s happiness and the future she has in front of her. When seeking advice from a stranger who has a gay brother, she receives the most poignant rationale for acknowledging that it’s okay for this acceptance to be a process. Sometimes even though the heart is in the right place, it can take some time for the head to catch up, and that’s okay.
One family member’s reaction that received less screen time and is resolved during a single brief and breezy scene is particularly nuanced and, in my humble opinion coming from someone of a Christian background, the most vital and bold statement the show makes during the entire thirteen episodes. A devoutly Catholic family member takes all of ten seconds to rationalize that her role is to love unconditionally and non-judgmentally because her god has instructed her to do that and nothing else. How timely and necessary for those with conservative, religious families to witness the way compassion and acceptance should actually be practiced.
Although ideally, I hope that someday in a perfect world we will be able to see coming out stories fade away into oblivion because they are no longer necessary, as long as recognized norm is heterosexuality and anything outside of that needs acknowledged as being different, these story arcs and how they are presented are absolutely imperative to spreading awareness. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a television show like One Day at a Time present a young, lesbian lead character and take viewers along her personal path and the path of those who love her most, showcasing this journey in an honest, empathetic, human way that has the potential to resonate and impact every viewer.