With the rise of the alt-right and four years of a Donald Trump presidency ahead of us, it’s easy to have a pessimistic outlook on the social progress of our country. However, art thrives even in dark times, and our current political state has not hindered upon this golden age of television. As television producers often say, diversity is “in,” and fresh narratives are gracing our screens like never before. “Orange is the New Black” (2013-present), “Empire” (2015-present), and “Grey’s Anatomy” (2005-present) with their diverse casts have been television game-changers.
The 2017 Netflix reboot of the classic ‘70s sitcom “One Day at a Time” (1975-1984) is the freshest thing on the market. It centers on three generations of a Cuban family living in the same house in Los Angeles, featuring single mother Penelope Álvarez (Justina Machado), her mother Lydia Riera (Rita Moreno), and her two kids, Elena and Alex (Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz). Their interactions with each other and with several hilarious side-characters give the show its authenticity and heart.
The show is filled to the brim with truly hilarious moments, and each character has his or her fair share of hilarious one-liners. The jokes are original and refreshing, and the strong, talented cast hits every comedic beat, leaving the audience sore from excessive laughter.
The thing that makes “One Day at a Time” a true standout among modern sitcoms is the touching, dramatic moments that are so well-intertwined with the hilarity. Much of the show’s heart comes from the way it uses the characters to touch upon contemporary issues. Penelope Álvarez is an army veteran in her late 30s who is trying to overcome the stigma surrounding mental illness in the Cuban community by seeking professional help. 15-year-old Elena Álvarez has to take care of a friend, Carmen (Ariela Barer), whose family was deported.
The focus on contemporary issues doesn’t stop there. The show celebrates LGBTQ+ people of color, discusses wage inequality, and touches upon what it means to be a feminist, among other things. “One Day at a Time” proves that political awareness and humor do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Most importantly, these issues are tackled from a Cuban-American lens. Instead of a sitcom depicting the classic white representation of the “all-American family,” we get a sitcom depicting the “all-Cuban-American family,” where Lydia’s infatuation for the Pope and unawareness of her thick accent are casually joked about. The sitcom also comments on white ignorance in the form of Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the hipster landlord and neighbor to the family, whose casual cultural appropriation is treated as a running joke.
In fact, many of the show’s most successful jokes are left in Spanish because calling someone a “comemierda” en inglés just isn’t the same. While this may leave a non-Spanish speaking viewer feeling a bit out of the loop at times, the show makes a statement in not catering to the white audience member. It’s not that “One Day at a Time” does not intend to attract a white audience—it just gives a true, unfiltered representation of what goes on in a Cuban home.
The generational differences in Cuban-Americans are also well portrayed in the show. Elena’s reluctance to having a quinceñera is met with opposition from her mother and grandmother because Elena’s modern values are at odds with their tradition. In addition, when Elena comes out as gay, the rest of the family has to take time to adjust, because the Catholic-influenced Cuban culture is typically not very tolerant of homosexuality.
Many immigrant cultures share perspectives that are different from the general American population, and the fact that this show addresses this makes it resonate with many different cultural groups. Cultural minority groups, as a whole, are a large part of what America is. If anything, “One Day at a Time” is, in fact, a depiction of the “all-American family,” as a voice for a cultural minority living in the United States in 2017.
As the original “One Day at a Time” was considered progressive in its depiction of a family raised by a single mother, the reboot takes this idea and adds onto it to make it progressive in terms of 2017. With brilliant writing and an extraordinarily talented cast, the “One Day at a Time” reboot successfully takes the model of the all-American sitcom and modernizes it like never before.
Simultaneously classic and avant-garde, “One Day at a Time” is a must-watch and is likely to go down in the ranks with “Seinfeld” (1989-1998) and “Arrested Development” (2003-2006, 2013) as a crown jewel of the sitcom genre. Take a study break, grab your plántanos, and turn on Netflix because you will laugh, you will cry, and you will enjoy every minute of it.