Netflix’s new comedy show One Day At A Time was only released this month. It had been recommended to me by a few people so I decided to sit down and give it a shot. I was surprised at how quickly I fell in love with it. The show is a comedy that follows the lives of the Cuban-American Alvarez family, consisting of the abuela Lydia, war-veteran and nurse, Penelope, and her two kids: Elena and Alex.
Though the show takes an episode or two to get into the swing of things, I was surprised at how genuine and heartening it was. I laughed out loud multiple times, and, as embarrassed as I am to admit, I even cried. So here are a few things that made this show really awesome:
I thought that we had it good when the CW’s popular show Jane The Virgin, with its central Latino characters, was doing well. Don’t get me wrong, Jane The Virgin is amazing. But One Day At A Time somehow manages to be even more Latino-central than Jane. Better yet, One Day At A Time is unapologetically Cuban.
The central characters have vastly differing relationships with their Cuban heritage. Lydia had to flee Castro’s regime as a young girl and make a life, separate from her Cuban family, in America. This is something that is painfully addressed in the show. Because of this, Lydia has a deep, but difficult, relationship with Cuba. Penelope, Lydia’s daughter, was born and raised in America. It’s clear that she loves and appreciates her Cuban heritage. Yet, she’s quick to acknowledge that the Cuban mindset has problems that have been set-out in front of her. When her doctor prescribes her anti-depressants, she’s too aware of what her Cuban mother will have to say on this. She’s even more aware of this when she decides to attend therapy later on in the show. In her own words, for Cubans “therapy is for the locos.”
The show does not address just the good things about being Cuban, nor does it focus on just the bad. Instead, it has a nuanced, clever, and diverse representation of Cuban heritage. It examines how three different generations within the Alvarez family come to view, and deal with, their Cuban-American heritage.
2. Elena Alvarez
Elena Alvarez is Penelope’s teenage daughter. I’m not going to lie, I probably relate to Elena on a deep level because she is the smarter version of teenage-me. In the first episode, she refuses to have a Quinces because she doesn’t want to be “paraded around in front of the men in the village like a piece of property to be traded for two cows and a goat.” Later, Penelope advises Elena that like Quinces, many traditions started off in misogyny and became something different. While Elena does agree to Quinces, she still remains a feminist and a “social justice warrior” (in Lydia’s words).
When Penelope’s co-worker begins to steal her ideas and pitch it to their boss as his own own, Elena tells her mother that this is sexism, and she needs to stand up to him. When the Alvarez’ car breaks down, Elena is enthused to use public transport because she wants to reduce her carbon footprint. During her Quinces itself, all the tables are named after feminists, including Frieda Kahlo and Oprah Winfrey.
Elena is a character with a very strong sense of self, which is refreshing to see in a such a young Latina. She’s quick to call out injustices. Yet, there are times when she has to understand that her beliefs are not the be-all end-all. She makes compromises for her family, and her growth during the season is wonderful to see.
3. Tackles Important and Relevant Issues
There are so many things that this show tackles: PTSD, depression, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ+ themes, amongst others. The best thing about it is that the show always does it in very clever, and often, moving ways. It makes jokes about many of these things, but these issues, or the people who suffer because of them, are never the butt of the joke. It’s comedy that punches up.
4. Brilliant LGBTQ+ Arc
Elena Alvarez, self-assured feminist, doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to figuring out her sexuality. Pretty early on in the season, we find out that Elena might not be into boys. Or maybe she’s into boys and girls. She’s just not sure. Her problem isn’t her sexuality itself, but the fact that she’ll have to come out to her Cuban family, especially her abuela, Lydia, who is incredibly religious. Her coming out to her family is hilarious at times, but also heart-warming and moving. It’s wonderful to see such a personable and refreshing engagement with a coming out story.
5. It’s Hilarious
Did I mention that the show is hilarious? Because it really is. I did wince a little at the laugh track during the first episode. But as I was laughing too hard in most of the other episodes, the laugh track barely even registered with me. The show strikes a wonderful balance between the serious and the comedic.
It also doesn’t have caricature characters. All of its central Latino characters are well-developed, and grow immensely during the thirteen episodes of the first season. The central white character, Schneider, the Alvarez’ wacky neighbour, does come off as your stereotypical ignorant white guy during the first few episodes. But as the show continues he shows surprising growth and development. None of the jokes about Schneider are made at the expense of his whiteness or maleness. They are all nuanced and clever, like all the comedic elements of the show.
What are you waiting for?
The existence of this show has made the start of my 2017 immensely better. The only disappointing thing about it has been its short thirteen-episode run. Meaning that I binge-watched the show in two days, and am already going through One Day At A Time withdrawals. If you’re looking for something that’s funny, clever, and moving, all at the same time, I highly recommend that you watch One Day At A Time.
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