One Day at a Time
One of the many reasons I was looking forward to the return of One Day at a Time was to see how it would approach the subject of sexual harassment in 2019. It’s a topical show by nature, featuring multiple outspoken feminist characters, so I (correctly) assumed season three would have some sort of #MeToo/Time’s Up-influenced story line. Since the Netflix version of ODAAT is, like its predecessor, a Norman Lear production (the show’s first incarnation tackled sexual harassment at a time when it was still taboo to do so), I expected plenty of poignant commentary on the female experience. What I didn’t expect, and was thrilled to see, was how showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, who wrote second episode “Outside,” structured it as a teachable moment for Alex Alvarez.
As television races to jump on the trending topic of #MeToo, I do feel that the one facet of this discussion that’s still not getting enough screen time is the importance of educating young men to not act like douchebags in the first place. While “Outside” ensures that its female characters get ample opportunity to share their own frightening encounters, it also drives home a message best expressed by Elena when describing her school’s aimed-at-women-only “Rape Prevention Week”: “‘Girls, don’t dress provocatively!’ ‘Girls, don’t walk alone!’ How about, ‘Hey, guys, don’t rape!’?”
When Penelope discovers that a) Alex has a private Instagram account (aka his “finsta”) and b) it contains photos of her teenage son groping his girlfriend’s breast and acting like an all-around creep, it’s time for a intervention. To everyone’s shock (including a skeeved-out Schneider, who obvs is present for a portion of this family discussion, donning a dad cardigan to boot), Alex didn’t learn his bad behavior from Kanye West or Louis C.K. — but from his abuelita, Lydia.
This is where Penelope, Elena, and Syd (Sheridan Pierce) — yep, Sylena are still going strong and they are adorable — step in to break the cycle of machismo that continues to be passed down not just within male Latino culture, but everywhere else. (It is worth mentioning that Alex also likely learned this behavior from own father, Victor, who has exhibited this form of toxic masculinity as well.) I know that Lydia meant no harm, but being a woman of an older generation who refers to catcalls as “a symphony of compliments,” she unfortunately remains woefully ignorant of the damage done by the kind of male aggression she was raised to view as romantic. Therefore, she taught “Papito” (Alex’s pet name) to pursue his current girlfriend, Chloe, until she agreed to go out with him. Her philosophy? “Every ‘No’ is a ‘Yes’ in disguise.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, she defends herself by regaling her family with a tale about “Tía Mimi” and how she was “wooed” by “Tío Rico.” The story involves a blindfold, a nighttime kidnapping, and waking up barefoot in a cornfield.
“That is romance,” Lydia insists.
“That is the plot of Taken 2,” counters Penelope.
Elena and Syd attempt to counteract Lydia’s naive attitude with an awkwardly clinical role-playing exercise about consent, but that also falls on deaf ears because their method strips all the fun out of physical contact. What does work is Penelope, Elena, and Syd sharing their own stories of sexual harassment, which forces Alex to reconsider his not-so-harmless antics. Elena and Syd reveal the reason they’ve been cooped up at Casa Alvarez playing video games over the past several weeks is because they’re too terrified to go outside: One night they were followed off a bus by a group of guys who tried to provoke them into kissing for their own entertainment.
“It was actually really scary,” admits Syd. (I challenge anyone to not tear up when Rita Moreno offers her hand to Sheridan Pierce in that moment. It added a nice grace note to the scene that I really hope wasn’t scripted.)
Eventually the couple managed to lose their tormentors in a crowd, but like so many women in that situation, Elena is still angry that she didn’t stand up for herself and Syd — especially when she knows her badass mom wouldn’t have just run away.
That’s when Penelope decides to tell her own story of sexual assault: Back when she was in the Army, her mentor forced her hand onto his genitals. While she did retaliate by kicking him in that same spot, the incident wound up silenced, making Penelope another statistic of unreported sexual violence crimes in the military.
Although Penelope’s superior offered to file a complaint, he told her “it would take forever.” She also confesses to remaining quiet on the matter “because then that’s all they know. And that defines you….I was scared, so I said nothing.”
The strength of “Outside” is that it refuses to tie this story up in a tidy little bow. Penelope laments how women are in a lose-lose situation: “If you don’t say something, you carry it around inside. If you do say something, you carry it around outside.” But at least we’re left with the hope that we will see change through the younger generation. Alex, who was always a good kid to begin with, exhibits a healthy amount of remorse — and is well-aware that if he slips, his inappropriate behavior will be punished by a cadre of the strongest women he knows. And Elena and Syd are applauded for their ability to recognize and reject harassment at any level, which is way better than anything Lydia was ever taught. (That and Penelope plants the idea of Elena channeling her “righteous anger” into a well-paying law career.)
As for Lydia, I’d recommend she watch this before asking her family if they want “chicken boobs for dinner” again.
This Is The Rest!
• Schneider earns his self-proclaimed LGBTQ “ally” title in spades when he comes up with the perfect relationship term for Elena to use when referring to the non-binary Syd: “Syd-nificant Other.”
• The gap between Gen-X and Gen-Z is a wide one in the Alvarez family, but it’s so worth it if it means more exchanges like these:
Elena: “[My finsta is] just me cosplaying Wynonna Earp.”
Penelope: “You said a lot of words that sound fake, but, okay.”
• Schneider rattling off all of his private social media accounts (“I have a FLinkedIn, a Fwitter and a FFacebook”) has me dying to know why a super-wealthy guy who doesn’t need to work is on LinkedIn.