In this era of 24/7 remakes and reboots, it’s become essential to weed out the value of shows that are actually worth resurrecting and those that are simply garbage cash grabs (Fuller House, anyone?) that should have stayed dead.
I’m not sure a reboot of the 1970’s Norman Lear sitcom One Day at a Time would have struck many people as necessarily worth trying out again, but as it turns out, the nature of this updated premise in 2018 has real cultural value. While the original series was about a single mom working to raise her two daughters, this new version developed by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce (with the legendary Lear serving as executive producer) sets the show in Los Angeles, where a single, working class Cuban-American nurse named Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) struggles to raise her two kids with the help of her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno).
Although I do still watch and love a lot of old sitcoms, not being a current CBS viewer myself, it’s been a long time since I tuned in to a new one, and so it took me a few episodes to get used to the rhythms of the multi-camera setup again. But as I did, I was reminded that the best of these shows get to be a kind of comfort food, with characters who become almost familial to the audience, and once you get back into it, you start to love and appreciate the Alvarez family and the struggles they face with a sunny attitude, even while tackling topical issues in classic Norman Lear fashion, such as post-traumatic stress (Penelope is also a vet who served in Iraq and Afghanistan), divorce, racism, and LGBT issues (Isabella Gomez plays the teenage oldest daughter Elena, a progressive activist who comes out to her family in the first season).
The great Rita Moreno co-stars as Penelope’s scene-stealing mother Lydia, a Cuban immigrant whose flair and excess produce big laughs, while Gomez and Marcel Ruiz are cute as the kids, and Todd Grinell serves up some fine Paul Rudd realness as the Canadian landlord of the apartment building and pop-in neighbor (every classic sitcom’s got to have one of those, right?) Completing the fine ensemble is the always reliable Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Berkowitz, Penelope’s hapless boss and love interest to Lydia. But Justina Machado is the one who holds it all together as Penelope. The limits of the multi camera format play largely to the charisma of the actors, and her capable toughness and complete embrace of and ability to sell whatever comedic or dramatic situation she faces, whether it’s dealing with family, work, men or her own inner turmoil, truly makes the show hers.
In this era where the only working class you hear about are so-called “economically anxious” white people who knowingly and callously put a racist monster in the White House, this show serves as a reminder of the real working class Americans- the majority of whom are people of color struggling to survive on a budget and with minimum wage jobs in the face of a nasty racist backlash after eight years of a black president left a lot of white people suffering from mass hysteria and panic over rising demographic change. But you know what? This is the real America, and we are not going anywhere.