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How One Day at a Time's Magical Animated Special Came Together

Plus, co-showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce reveal how they nabbed guest star Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Kelly Connolly

You just can't keep One Day at a Time down. The beloved sitcom, which already beat the odds when it was saved by Pop TV after being canceled at Netflix, returns on Tuesday night with an all-new episode, miraculously produced in the middle of an industry-wide production shutdown on live-action shows. The trick? The Alvarez family is getting animated. Titled "The Politics Episode," the new half-hour takes a story the show was already planning to tell -- the family prepares for a visit from their conservative relatives -- and turns it into a clever, colorful animated special.

Speaking to TV Guide, co-showrunner Mike Royce pointed to the necessary deadline of the 2020 election -- and the ingenuity of his fellow showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett -- as the guiding forces behind the special episode. "We had written an episode that we were very much looking forward to doing live action, called 'The Politics Episode,' about talking to your family about politics," Royce said. "We were afraid that we wouldn't come back in time to be able to do it, and Gloria, ever the amazing hustler who will keep One Day at a Time on for the rest of all of our lives, had this great idea that this particular episode was already written in a way that was going to be shot differently. It was already a departure for us. It already had a lot of fantasy sequences in it. And so it lent itself to becoming an animated episode."

But making that dream happen meant getting the episode off the ground in a fraction of the time it usually takes to create an animated special from scratch. Both showrunners said it was a team effort. The key came when executive producer Brent Miller found Canada-based animation company Smiley Guy, who, in Kellett's words, "thought they could work around the clock" to get everything done in eight weeks. 

"We were all very committed to moving quickly," Kellett told TV Guide. "There would be sort of an email 9-1-1. Like, 'We just got an email. Everyone get on to approve it!' Just so that nobody was stopping the train. The actors were all incredibly generous about their likenesses and approving them quickly, and we just moved at a rapid pace to get this done in time."

One Day at a Time

One Day at a Time

Pop TV

Kellett also had a hand in the character design process, sending Smiley Guy a handful of animation styles that she thought had captured Latinx characters well. "I sent them three or four designs that I liked from the past of how Latinas were drawn, et cetera, and they went with it and provided something we just really loved," she said. She pointed to Lydia (Rita Moreno) and Schneider's (Todd Grinnell) exaggerated hairstyles as two of her favorite elements of the show's regular characters in cartoon form.

In addition to showing off the voice acting talents of the main cast, "The Politics Episode" welcomes back returning guest stars Gloria Estefan and Melissa Fumero as Tia Mirtha and Estrellita, respectively, and adds Lin-Manuel Miranda to the show's impressive guest roster. "We wanted him forever," Kellett said. "He's a very busy, popular national treasure." But the production shutdown gave Miranda just enough of an opening in his schedule that Kellett was able to make it happen. 

"When this all happened everything was down," she recalled. "I believe he was supposed to be either prepping or directing his first feature film, and we were just like, 'Why not give it a shot?' So I just texted him and said, 'Hey, what are you doing? You want to do this? You'll probably be done in two hours.' And he said, 'Sure.'" 

Leave it to One Day at a Time to find a way to turn the production shutdown into something magical.

One Day at a Time's animated special airs Tuesday at 9:30/8:30c on Pop TV and will be simulcast on TV Land. Check back here after the episode for more from Royce and Kellett. (UPDATE: Check out Royce and Kellett's spoilery thoughts on "The Politics Episode" here.)

The first three seasons of One Day at a Time are streaming on Netflix.

One Day at a Time Animated Special

One Day at a Time Animated Special

Smiley Guy Studios