A Eulogy for the Dearly Departed One Day at a Time

Photo: Michael Yarish/Netflix

It wasn’t surprising to see the news today that Netflix’s One Day at a Time, a Cuban-American take on the ’70s and ’80s sitcom originally created by Norman Lear, has been canceled. Recently, showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce had been actively seeking fan support on social media, which suggested that the possibility of a plug-pulling was imminent.

But while the show’s cancellation after three seasons may not be a shock, that doesn’t make it any less sad. One Day at a Time wasn’t merely a good show, nor the only show on television that gave us regular access to the vivacious brilliance of Rita Moreno, although it was and did both of those things. One Day at a Time was a show that mattered because it painted a nuanced, rich portrait of a hard-working family of immigrants and second-generation immigrants at precisely the moment that portrait needed to be seen.

The first season of the sitcom debuted on January 6, 2017, two weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration and three weeks before Trump signed a travel ban that barred immigrants from certain countries from entering the U.S. The Alvarez family on the show didn’t hail from any of the countries affected by that ban. Their roots were in Cuba, as Moreno’s Lydia, the grandmother who shared the family’s modest Echo Park apartment, mentioned practically every cinco minutos.

But the Alvarezes represented the Latinx community that Trump had spent an election cycle frequently degrading and dehumanizing, and ODAAT made it clear that community is not some threatening monolith to vilify. They are people with beliefs and concerns that mirror those of any other Americans. This should go without saying. But at the beginning of 2017 and for the years that have followed, it really, really needed to be said.

Penelope Alvarez, played with just the right mix of sarcasm and sensitivity by Justina Machado, was a military veteran who owned a gun, but also fully supported her daughter, Elena (Isabella Gomez), when she came out as a lesbian. Penelope taught her son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) how to treat women with respect, and so did his closest confidante, his grandmother Lydia. Schneider (Todd Grinnell) remained, as he did in the original incarnation of the series, the snoopy super of the building, but he also showed what it looks like to possess a blinkered sense of white privilege, and then how to shut up and listen to those who tend to be marginalized.

One Day at a Time generally skewed left in its politics — Lear was, after all, still involved — but it did so in a way that was inclusive, inviting, and, more than most sitcoms on TV, genuinely interested in depicting what middle-class life actually looks like today. It made a lot of people feel seen, especially Cuban-Americans and Latinx people. When a man who expresses a desire for you to just go away is the sitting in the Oval Office, that really freakin’ matters.

The show also sat smack in the middle of a Venn diagram where traditional and contemporary television intersect. One Day at a Time was a classic multi-camera sitcom on a streaming network that’s been characterized as the future of television. It told some corny jokes and made significant social statements. It was old-school and it was woke, and it also made fun of how ridiculous it sounds to acknowledge your own wokeness. It was timeless. But I think One Day at a Time will be best remembered, and hopefully discovered and rewatched, because it was so uniquely suited for its time.

A Eulogy for the Dearly Departed One Day at a Time