With all the hoopla surrounding the NFL playoffs, Golden Globes, Trump coming to The White House, New Year's resolutions that won't make it to February and inclement weather pounding our country, you may have missed the fact that Netflix recently released its reboot of the classic sitcom One Day at a Time.
It's not entirely your fault. Netflix slipped this out with little fanfare, unlike, say, the publicity barrage that another of its classic-sitcom reboots, Fuller House, dumped on us.
It's a shame that's the case, because — and yes, I'm very surprised I'm saying this given the general quality of reboots these days — it's an absolute delight and it may just be the most important and relevant comedy you'll see all year.
The original — which starred Bonnie Franklin as a divorced mom raising two daughters — has been updated for today's audiences, but still retains many of the characteristics of the Normal Lear classic. The live-in grandmother is still there, played by living legend Rita Moreno. The struggle of raising a family as a single mother is still central to the story. And the laugh track and living room couch of the multi-camera format are front and center.
But it's what's new that makes One Day at a Time more than just another stale rehash no one asked for. The whiteness of the Romanos has been replaced by the Alvarezes, a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles' gentrified-to-grimy-hipsterdom neighborhood Echo Park. Latinos, particularly Cuban-Americans, are a welcome addition to the growing kaleidoscope of colors coming to sitcoms. (One Day at a Time fills a void left by ABC's underrated and departed Cristela.)
Single mom Penelope (Justina Machado) is a veteran war medic who works as a nurse and, in the show's most substantial twist on the original, struggles with PTSD and the difficulties that come from being back in civilian culture. Eldest daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) has a storyline that wouldn't see the light of day back in the 1980s, but is especially relevant and may be one of the best and most respectful representations of youth today. And societal issues — such as gender gaps, religion and racism — are central to the stories that already cover the familiar family problems of generational differences, the struggle to put food on the table and teenage angst.
Now, if you're like me, just the term multi-camera sitcom evokes a retch. But One Day at a Time's combination of old and new brings back the comforting feel of multi-cams of yesteryear rather than the hack routine of most modern-day multi-cams, all while staying pertinent to today. Shows like NBC's The Carmichael Show, Netflix's The Ranch and CBS' Mom have led this multi-cam renaissance, but One Day at a Time is the best of the bunch.
The writing, ushered in by iZombie's Gloria Calderon Kellett and comedy vet Mike Royce (Everybody Loves Raymond), is full of inspiration and warmth rather than snark and cynicism. And in keeping up with comedy's new trend of being better drama than actual dramas, you are guaranteed to well up — if not outright bawl your eyes out — at least once per episode, thanks to the wonderful way serious topics such as Penelope's PTSD or abuela Lydia's issues with self image are handled.
There's a whole lot more than the traditional formula of set-up, set-up, punchline going on here. There are stories that aren't just relatable, but will open up the eyes of those who don't find them relatable; something badly needed as we careen towards greater and greater division in our country.
And the Netflix formula helps One Day at a Time a ton. By avoiding commercials, the series is never interrupted by slickly produced ads that take viewers out of the comforting womb of the multi-camera format. The stories can continue as we inhabit this world, the rhythms stay intact and at near 30 minutes per episode rather than the traditional network 22, the stories have more time to gain depth. Yes, it's a sitcom. But it has tons of heart which is brought to life by a great cast.
Look, One Day at a Time won't be a show that ends up on many year-end top 10 lists, but it's a series that will surprise you with its ability to charm, entertain and teach. It's that last part that makes it special. The family-oriented multi-camera comedies of the '60s, '70s and '80s used to be where we learned how to handle familial issues. One Day at a Time is bringing these classic tropes back for the streaming generation.
One Day at a Time is available to stream on Netflix.