One Day at a Time
Whenever we discuss Schneider in this version of One Day at a Time, his absurd degree of white privilege almost requires us to not give him too much sympathy. We’ve heard his stories of parental neglect and multiple rehab stints, but since he lives in a rarefied world where money practically grows on trees, his problems still come off as inconsequential compared to those of the Alvarez family.
That is, until now.
We’ve known for a while that Schneider’s relationship with his father was a fractious one, but there’s a big difference between the Echo Park hipster casually mentioning an instance of emotional abuse and seeing it played out as part of ODAAT’s storyline. However, Lawrence Schneider’s gag-inducing presence in “The Man” isn’t half as upsetting as watching his son throw the Alvarezes under the bus on the off chance he’ll gain a fatherly word of affection.
This is not to say I think Schneider behaves in a weak manner here. In fact, I think “The Man” astutely portrays the lengths a child will go to please an unloving parent, even when that parent is as despicable as the visiting Lawrence. This, compounded with the fragile nature of sobriety, places Schneider in an untenable situation: Regardless of how the Alvarez family have welcomed this spoiled man-child into their fold, their love can never fully replace the hole Lawrence left in his heart. Schneider has spent his whole life seeking his father’s approval, and when he rejects Lawrence’s plan to convert the building’s apartments into condos — which would force the Alvarezes to move — Daddy tells him he’s worthless. “The Man” then ends with an eight-years-sober Schneider locking his apartment door and carefully considering the bottle of Don Julio tequila Lawrence irresponsibly gifted him. We don’t know if he took a drink, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
It’s not lost on me that Lawrence is played by Alan Ruck, best known for his role as Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Like Schneider, Cameron was raised in affluence, but suffered years of emotional damage due to a neglectful father; Morris Frye’s love for his prized 1961 Ferrari over that of his son is seared into many a Gen-Xer’s consciousness. Since Cameron’s mental anguish was never appropriately addressed in Ferris Bueller (we don’t see what happens after Cam decides to “take a stand”), it’s possible the character grew up to be a cold, detached father like Lawrence, perpetuating this toxic cycle of parenting and making Ruck’s casting a fitting one.
Another thing about Lawrence is that in any other moment in our country’s history, someone like him would’ve been dismissed as a caricature. Trouble is, our reality is currently peppered with caricatures in leadership roles, so what other choice does ODAAT have to get across how dreadful a person like Lawrence is? The show continues in its tradition of never mentioning Donald Trump by name, yet does not leave anything to the imagination when it comes to Lawrence’s political leanings. Schneider announces his Canadian father “refused to come back to America until it was great again,” and in one scene, Lawrence is on the phone with an unnamed acquaintance who invites him to Mar-a-Lago.
There is also zero subtlety when it comes to Lawrence’s deplorable attitude toward Latinos who are not drug kingpins (“Escobar was an old friend”): He mutters “Thank God” when Schneider informs him that Penelope is not his uber-wealthy girlfriend Avery, and has no qualms about responding to Alex’s compliment on his suit with, “A little boy like you made it for me.” Out loud.
(Justina Machado’s calm, measured removal of Penelope’s hoop earrings here elicited what I believe to be the biggest audience reaction since Rita Moreno uttered “Not yet” last season. Penelope punching Lawrence in the throat is something I think most ODAAT fans would have welcomed wholeheartedly.)
But the real issue here isn’t that Lawrence is a terrible person, it’s that in his desperation to win his father’s favor, Schneider is stuck in a predicament that is not likely to end well no matter the choice he makes. Seduced by Lawrence’s dangling carrot of a father-son real estate project, he reverts back to his ignorant, privileged self. When Penelope explains that she doesn’t have enough money for a down payment on her apartment, he offers this Wilbur Ross-sanctioned solution: “Just get one of those loans where you don’t have to put anything down and you only pay interest!”
Schneider is just lucky that all she did was throw him out of her home. Suggesting that Penelope bankrupt herself so he can get richer is definitely worth a punch in the throat.
When the two of them regroup later, they have a heart-to-heart about how “family is everything,” which helps Schneider make his decision — though not the one Penelope was expecting. He knows that the Alvarezes are his family now, and to force them out will deprive him of the only love he’s ever known. So he does the morally right thing by refusing to convert the building, which results in a slew of disparaging remarks from Lawrence that no amount of money could ever alleviate. Any objective viewer can see that Schneider is better off without his father, but that doesn’t mean the phrase “Family is everything” doesn’t hold true for him. It’s just that Schneider thought it would be enough to replace Lawrence with the Alvarezes. What he didn’t count on was how hard it would be to stop loving the one person who is supposed to love you back — and doesn’t.
I don’t know if Schneider has it in him to break the toxic cycles of his past, the way Penelope has done from the start of this series. If he can bring himself to try, he couldn’t ask for a better role model than his downstairs BFF.
This Is The Rest!
• Lydia’s reference to Caso Cerrado brings back memories of the time my late mother-in-law and I watched an episode together (she even took pity on her gringa daughter-in-law and translated it for me).
• ODAAT continues to avoid the pitfalls of its sitcom trappings by sagely revisiting issues that were never fully resolved in earlier episodes. “The Man” highlights Lydia’s still-problematic proclivity to coddle Alex (she did his punishment chores!), and how putting a stop to it is a never-ending job for Penelope.
• On the flip side, Lydia and Alex’s close relationship shows how Penelope doesn’t have to be so adamant about shielding her mother from the vices creeping into their family: Lydia now knows that Alex was grounded not for “spend[ing] time with some girl named Mary Jane,” but for vaping Mary Jane. And Alex now knows that one night at the opera, his abuelita “became, very, como se dice? Lit.”
• Mateo is good for Penelope in all ways but romantic: Since he’s an accountant, he crunched her numbers to see if she could purchase her apartment (she can’t). I hope she at least retains those services if/when she cuts him loose.
• Schneider farming out the building’s maintenance to Elena and then taking the credit for it are so many forms of wrong on an intersectionality scale, I was stunned ODAAT reduced it to a punchline.