One Day At A Time
“The problem in the world today is we love our boys and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong and sometimes we take care not to hurt men. And I think we pay for that a little bit.” —Michelle Obama
This quote, from a talk the former first lady gave back in 2017 at the Obama Foundation Summit (you can view the full conversation here) encapsulates the theme of “Hermanos,” written by Becky Mann and Audra Sielaff. Penelope Alvarez may call it a “Cuban stereotype” in this episode, but the idea of coddling boys while encouraging girls to be flawless extends to all cultures.
Any fan of Netflix’s One Day at a Time knows that in the Alvarez family, Alex is Lydia’s favorite. While she exhibits tough love with her daughter Penelope and granddaughter Elena, “Papito” is put on a pedestal. Although it’s cute to see Lydia showing up to Dr. Berkowitz’s office to lay out a several-course lunch for her file-clerk grandson (which she did in season two), “Hermanos” showcases the negative effects of such smothering.
In this episode, we’re introduced to Penelope’s brother, Tito (Law & Order: SVU’s Danny Pino), a snappily dressed, successful businessman who travels so often he didn’t even exist in the ODAAT universe until now. (Readers: If I’m wrong about that statement, please don’t hesitate to let me know, but I’m blanking on any previous mention of Lydia and her late husband Berto having a son.) When Tito surprises the Alvarezes during their San Diego getaway, quickly usurping all of Penelope’s meticulously planned, luxury-on-a-budget hard work, she’s understandably frustrated.
Because it doesn’t matter that Penelope stayed up for three nights cobbling together discounts and white lies (is anyone really gonna check to see that she’s a travel agent?) to make this vacation possible. Or that she Indiana Jonesed a bunch of sodas out of the minibar. Everyone is far more excited that rich Tío Tito has shown up to distribute crisp $20 bills to his niece and nephew — and to upgrade the evening’s dinner from a boring land restaurant to one on a boat.
Lydia is so tickled that her son traveled from Seattle to see them that she remarks to Penelope, “He’s a hero.” To which her exasperated daughter responds, “You remember I’m a war veteran, right?”
But this isn’t about Penelope seeking approval for her multiple thankless roles. It’s about how Lydia is conveniently forgetting that a) Tito was MIA the whole time she was in the hospital, and b) other than showing up to Berto’s funeral, he remained emotionally absent while his father was dying. (And speaking of important family events, did Tito even go to Elena’s quinceañera?)
During a contentious dinner, a chatty colleague of Tito’s lets it slip that he was in San Diego at the time of Lydia’s coma. Meaning, while his mother clung to life in a Los Angeles hospital bed, Tito was a mere two-hour drive away. After a shattered Lydia leaves the table, it’s Penelope who is saddled with the even more disturbing truth: In the cases of both his father’s death and his mother’s stroke, Tito was too much of a coward to deal with the intense reality of his parents’ mortality.
“We were all wrecked,” snaps Penelope, refusing to accept Tito’s excuse of emotional paralysis. “But too freakin’ bad, because we’re grown-ups now, and we both have to step up.”
This scene between brother and sister illustrates how Lydia’s gender-specific parenting approach was a harmful one: There is no doubt that she indulged Tito the way she does Alex now (which Penelope has been doing her damnedest to counteract since the series began; and given how Alex and Elena are able to resolve their own differences in the episode, goes to show what a great job she’s doing). Instead of raising Tito to be as capable as Penelope — he wouldn’t last two days in the Army — Lydia babied him, and as a result, he fell to pieces at the first sight of adversity.
Lydia may be the scene-stealer, but it’s episodes like this one that remind everyone of what, to quote Tito, “a superwoman” Penelope is. It takes someone like her to inject her entitled brother with a hearty dose of humility — he promises at the end of “Hermanos” to be around more — because Lydia, much as we love her, is too set in her ways to really change. Fortunately, Lydia brought up her daughter to be strong, which comes in pretty handy when she praises Tito, not Penelope, for his newfound selflessness. Ugh…
And back home in L.A., two other wealthy grown men are cast adrift: It’s played for laughs, but this episode’s secondary plot also ties into the idea of how dependent Schneider and Dr. Berkowitz are on Penelope and the rest of her female-centric family. However, you won’t see me chastising these two for throwing themselves a bro-tastic, Hall and Oates-soundtracked shindig at the Alvarez apartment, because at least they held constant vigil at Lydia’s bedside last season.
With the Alvarezes out of town, Schneider and Dr. Berkowitz find themselves so bereft of love, family, and purpose that they literally fight over who gets to water Lydia’s plant. I wish I were joking: “I have nothing else in my life!” is an actual line of dialogue uttered by Stephen Tobolowsky. But once they fire up the stove and some classic white-guy dance tunes, they’re bonding over climate change and aliens. Eventually, Schneider and Dr. Berkowitz learn that the Alvarezes aren’t their only sources of family — they’ve got each other, too. Doc gets to be a father figure to Schneider (which has got to be better than “failure figure,” a.k.a. how his daughters view him), and Schneider finally gets some paternal pride for his eight years of sobriety.
But they’d still be lost without the Alvarezes, so Schneider may be on to something when he suggests to the empty apartment that they “redo the family portraits.” After all, there’s already an Alvarez-Schneider snow globe in existence.
This Is The Rest!
• I know Dr. Berkowitz’s character is a sad sack by nature, but what the hell did he do to incur such rage from his own family? This is a guy forced to take medical marijuana lemon lozenges to combat night terrors — in which his ex-wife and daughters are trying to kill him.
• Every kid on vacation ever: “You said minibars were introduced by the CIA to punish poor people!”
• I’m not gay, but if I was, I would absolutely want Rita Moreno to throw open a pair of doors, pose like the goddess that she is, and tell me, “That is how you come out of the closet.” Elena is a very lucky young woman.
• Penelope and Lydia clip coupons over glasses of wine. In my mind, there is nothing more glamorous.