Though the world would have you think laughing and crying are two opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, Netflix's One Day at a Time has intrinsically linked them in bingeable harmony to become one of television's most satisfying gems.
The series, a remake of the CBS sitcom that ran from 1975 to 1984 that swaps Indianapolis for Los Angeles' gentrifying Echo Park neighborhood and a caucasian family for Cuban immigrants, returns for its second season on Friday and is an emotional wonder that will leave you dropping all your assumptions about multicamera reboots. It's the rare show that blows away notions of demographics and target audiences. Are you human? Then you will appreciate One Day at a Time.
The plot isn't going to pop off the screen while browsing Netflix — Justina Machado plays a divorced Iraq war vet raising two teen kids with the help of her live-in mother (global treasure Rita Moreno). What makes One Day at a Time work is its realness.
And nothing is more real to life than the ups and downs that come with the universal obstacles we all face, whether it be families fractured by divorce, a teen's struggle with coming out as gay and their parent's struggle with accepting it, or longing for love at every age, just a handful of topics that One Day at a Time covers. Many other family comedies touch on these, too, but none of them execute them as well. Watching an episode of One Day at a Time is a lot like being on an emotional see-saw where going up as important as going down.
"We laugh and cry every day, that's true, and talking about this stuff, talking about family and talking about raising kids and wanting to do it right, it's emotional," co-showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett, a vet of How I Met Your Mother and iZombie, told TV Guide. "Our [writers] room is a very special group of people that really share personal stuff. This is not every show that you have to do this."
One Day at a Time takes these critical topics on like a battering ram, fearlessly diving into them in a way that most other shows can't or won't, like the difficult-but-rewarding Season 2 episode about Penelope's struggles with depression and anti-depressants as a result of the PTSD she suffers from. While earnestly discussing Penelope's struggles, humor is sprinkled in to lighten the mood, just as it can in real life with families who are tight with each other. That's the engine that makes the show run. It can't be just funny or just emotional. It has to be both. Often at the same time.
"There are some sitcoms where you come in and it's like, 'Oh that's a funny situation, we have to do that.' This character is caught in this, and you're pitching funny scenes," co-showrunner Mike Royce, whose past credits include Men of a Certain Ageand Everybody Loves Raymond, told TV Guide. "And there are some sitcoms where you're, 'Oh we're going to get to this character's emotional journey and it ends here and it's going to be really touching.' And we try to do both, really. The most important thing is the emotional thing, that's what gets the story going. What's going to feel real important and move people and feel relevant, but we're comedy writers and the comedy comes along the way."
One Day at a Time also takes advantage of its format — the multicamera setup and the fact that it's commercial-free and unrestricted by time on Netflix — to its advantage which makes the audience feel like part of the family — a typical cliché that's absolute truth in One Day at a Time. Kellett points out that their episodes are closer to 30 minutes long rather than the typical broadcast runtime of 21 minutes, which allows the writers to pen another entire act that isn't trying to cram in jokes before the next ad.
As Royce puts it, "To really give those dramatic scenes time to breathe where they're really living in it, and not having to like rush through it and hit one emotional beat and then cut to commercial and come back and do the rest, it really makes it more like a play and lets the actors be how great they are."
One Day at a Time Season 2 begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, Jan. 26.