‘One Day At A Time’ and the True Working-Class American Family

Netflix has a show that is topical and realistic. Now is the time to jump in.
One Day At A Time
By  · Published on August 2nd, 2018

Netflix has a show that is topical and realistic. Now is the time to jump in.

For those looking to the next great sitcom, I have good news for you. It is already on the air. One Day At A Time is a re-imaging of the 1975–1984 sitcom by the same name, with the focus on a Latinx family. Netflix has two seasons of the show on the service with a third promised for 2019. If you are interested in filling a hole in your TV viewing, maybe one that has been left empty by another prominent sitcom, I suggest giving this one all of your attention.

The creators of One Day At A Time recently attended the summer Television Critics Association press tour and gave their thoughts on what happened with Roseanne. They loved seeing stories that were not about a family “out of a magazine shoot.” The show focused on real-life issues and family. But there was one thing about the promotion for the Roseanne revival that rubbed One Day Day At A Time co-creator Mike Royce the wrong way: an ad for the show suggested the Conners as “the family that looks like us.” In 2018, that is flat-out tone deaf.

According to data from the 2010 US Census, America is becoming more diverse every day. While the largest group reported white alone (about 72 percent), that leaves 28 percent of Americans who do not look like the Conner clan. Families come in all shapes and sizes. There can not be one program that shows the ideal American family, but some can come close.

Starring Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Rita Moreno, and Marcel Ruiz, One Day At A Time brings us into the living room of the Alvarez family. Penelope Alvarez (Machado) is a US Army Nurse Corps veteran, and she has continued in that field for her day job as a nurse. The effects of serving for her country has had significant ramifications on her family life. She suffers from PTSD and became separated from her husband when he consumed alcohol for his treatment.

To get by on a single income (and because her mother insisted), her mother Lydia has helped raise her two children. Lydia has her own problems as she is a refugee who fled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s rise to power. The two children, Elena and Alex, find out what it is to be a Cuban American child in the public school system.

During Season 1 of the show, there is a subplot about Elena and her friend Carmen. At first, it concerns the family about the relationship between Elena and Carmen, making suggestions that they might be in a romantic relationship. There is a half-truth to that idea, since Elena struggles with her sexuality over the course of the entire first season. But this is something else. Carmen’s parents have been deported and she has been living in Elena’s room since her parents were sent away. With nowhere to go, she depends on the support of the Alvarez family.

The second season goes headfirst into the immigration crisis in America. In the fourth episode, “Roots,” Elena tries to explain to her grandmother how important voting can be. Lydia tries her best to get out of this precarious situation, avoiding the opportunity to vote at all costs. This is because Lydia has never become a US citizen and she is only a green-card holder. In Trump’s America, this doesn’t just mean she can’t vote, but she might be deported because she is not a US citizen.

Lydia struggles with this because she would have to renounce her Cuban citizenship in order to become an American citizen. Even though she has lived in America for decades, she still believes “Cuba is home” and that one day she will return there.

The penultimate episode of the season shows Lydia and landlord/friend Schneider go through the process of American citizenship. Lydia has a kind man helping her through the process and although she is impeccable through the test, there still comes an issue that makes her fear for her safety. On the other hand, even though Schneider is Canadian, he has nothing to worry about. He speaks English fine, he’s white, and he has plenty of money. He is welcome here even as we watch him make a fool of himself during the interview. It’s a sequence that shows even immigrants with the best intentions can have problems when getting citizenship.

The third season of the show is planning on moving away from the stories about immigration, because “by existing, we are political in this landscape,” executive producer Gloria Calderon-Kellett said recently. The creators of the show are more interested in telling stories of the Latinx community, rather than headline-ripping episodes. Season 3 promises appearances from Gloria Estefan, who will play Mirtha, Lydia’s baby sister and arch-nemesis, and Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz, both from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

One Day At A Time shows what it is like to be a Latinx American family in the Trump era. Families are making money to support their families the best way they can while still being fearful of the world around them. The Alvarez family has to confront racism and inequality daily in their lives. That doesn’t mean they don’t love the opportunities and the freedom that comes with living in America, they are just frustrated with the changes they see around them. If you need a sitcom that deals with “of the moment” issues, look no further than this one.

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