Anyone who has read my One Day at a Time recaps knows that, to paraphrase Dr. Berkowitz, I stan Penelope Alvarez. I look up to her as a mother, as a medical professional (who would not have time for couch shopping during a global pandemic), and as a feminist badass. But since nobody’s perfect, I was glad that ODAAT used this week’s episode, “Penny Pinching,” to address my one Penelope turnoff — her obsessive frugality.
Emphasis on the “obsessive,” not the “frugality.”
Even though she’s no longer struggling financially now that she’s a nurse practitioner, Penelope continues to live as if she’s on the edge of bankruptcy. But instead of turning its protagonist into a punchline, “Penny Pinching” sensibly acknowledges the very real thing that is Penelope’s scarcity mind-set. (BTW, if you’re one of those people currently hoarding toilet paper, this is you, too.) Don’t get me wrong: It’s hard to match the high of booking a luxury vacation at a bargain price, but when your compulsion to keep on the cheap sucks the enjoyment out of a casual dining experience — and embarrasses your teenage son in front of his new bae — then you’ve got a problem.
Penelope, Elena, Lydia are out to dinner with Alex and his girlfriend, Nora (Raquel Justice). At first, the biggest threat to everyone’s appetite appears to be Lydia’s creepily possessive line of questioning. That is, until Penelope pressures the table to order before 6 p.m. so they can get happy-hour prices.
Whatever doubts anyone had about Lydia standing in the way of Papito’s happiness are immediately put to rest as soon as Nora charms the family with her Spanish fluency. Good thing, because once the bill arrives, there won’t be any more room for discord at Casa Alvarez, as evidenced by Elena’s “Don’t freak out” tell: Penelope was charged full price for some of the entreés, and she is not having it, especially not when she finds out her server put part of their order in post–happy hour.
I’m not going to call Penelope a certain name here, because that would suggest that she’s entitled and ignorant. But girl does exhibit some serious “Karen”-like behavior that warrants intervention: She makes a huge scene over $13 “and a brownie that the waiter definitely spit on,” before whipping out her best “I demand to speak to your manager!” (Surprise! It’s the insouciant server.)
Back home, Penelope discovers that her excessive thriftiness is not only pissing off her family, but it isn’t exactly providing a return on investment, either. Schneider, in his best entrance to date, slides out from under Penelope’s “janky” couch to offer counsel after overhearing about Potstickersgate. Despite the handyman’s best efforts, the afghan-covered centerpiece of the Alvarez household is beyond repair — so much so that there’s a mysterious puddle on its left arm, which can only mean one thing: “Pen, your sofa is crying.”
Schneider gently reminds Penelope that she’s making more money as a nurse practitioner now, and that it’s okay to buy a new couch. Penelope isn’t so easily swayed, not even when the couch collapses under her the following day and she tries to pass it off as “two love seats.”
Now, while Schneider wouldn’t have been my first choice to be his tenant’s financial coach, it turns out Mr. Custom Marble Bidet knows a thing or two about smart shopping. He doesn’t take Penelope to a snooty, upscale boutique, but a mid-range store with a punny name that will never be as good as this one.
Enticed by the comfy, spill-guard-covered couches, Penelope closes her eyes, holds her nose, and hands over her credit card. Okay, so she threw up while doing it, but let’s not quibble over the details. She bought a brand-new couch!
But this episode isn’t about Penelope learning to feel good about spending money after a life of penny-pinching. It’s about accepting that when bad things happen (and they will happen), you can trust that your years of financial austerity will soften the blow, in ways you never expected.
Right on cue — no, really, Schneider actually says, “See? Spending a little money didn’t set off a chain of events that led to some doomsday scenario!” — the episode’s B-story crashes into the A-plot. (All you need to know is Elena went to an e-sports tournament, parked on the street, and Alex, Lydia, and Dr. Berkowitz were with her, because they needed something to do this episode. There was also a subplot involving crabs.) A crestfallen Elena walks in, wearing a guilty expression that is every teenager’s rite of passage when given the privilege of driving Mom and/or Dad’s car. She leads off with her usual “Don’t freak out!” before valiantly spinning a car break-in into, “I saved $8, and some other stuff happened.”
As everyone braces for impact, Penelope shocks the room by saying, “It’s only money.” Schneider, of course, takes all of the credit for her super-chill response and is probably recording a podcast right now called “Loosening Up Tight-Wads.” If that’s the case, then he’s never heard of car insurance, which is the only reason Penelope keeps her cool.
That’s when Elena confesses one last detail: She left her (uninsured) laptop in the front seat, and that’s likely the reason the car was broken into in the first place. No matter your financial bracket, that kind of news will set off even the most laid-back of people, so I support Penelope’s fury toward Elena here. It’s what Penelope does next that exemplifies her personal growth: She recognizes her deep-seated patterns. She opens up to Elena about how “money and I have never had a great relationship,” because regardless of her nurse-practitioner raise, her fears of constantly being broke “don’t just go away.”
Penelope knows this is something she needs to work on, but the silver lining of this incident is that her fiscal prudence has positively rubbed off on her daughter: Not only is Elena remorseful and ready to replace the laptop herself, she reveals that she’s been saving part of her earnings as Schneider’s assistant, and it was all carefully managed on a spreadsheet (a spreadsheet that, alas, lived on her laptop).
I know I was concerned in last week’s recap that ODAAT’s B-plots would be a casualty of the series’ shortened run time. But having Elena’s e-sports adventure fold into the episode’s main story line, teaching Penelope that her frugality has paid off in the most rewarding way possible, made me realize I never should’ve worried in the first place. ODAAT’s got this.
This Is the Rest!
We are all Dr. B when he asks, “Do you know anything about loneliness?”
Though I was initially thrown by Schneider’s insight into the scarcity
mind-set, it does make sense that a recovering addict would be on intimate terms with this sort of compulsion.
I’m not gay, but Elena’s “God, it’s so easy being straight!” reaction to Alex and Nora’s bland meet-cute sums up my feelings exactly.
Did anyone else notice that this week’s Schitt’s Creek episode (a.k.a. ODAAT’s lead-in) featured a similar subplot with Alexis and Twyla about finding the enjoyment in spending money? *Sniff* Sorry, I’ve got something in my