My old screenwriting professor told me that every screenplay needed to lead to "a surprising but inevitable end." That balancing act between giving the audience what they want in an unexpected way is the greatest struggle for writers to nail, but the adage was all I could think about when watching One Day at a Time Season 3.
One Day at a Time has a formula, but it's yet to feel tired or boring. Each season covers varying topics that are personally affecting the Alvarez family and the world they live in, leading to an emotional bombshell that takes over the final episodes for a bigger arc. These issues are tackled with wit, intelligence and vulnerability that brings you closer to the family and makes One Day at a Time one of the best sitcoms on television.
In previous seasons, the show has tackled class issues, racism, depression and homophobia. The first season not only introduced us to the Alvarez family but introduced us to Penelope's (Justina Machado) PTSD and depression in a stunning two-episode arc. Her struggle to get on medication, accepting her illness and coping with those complicated emotions has remained a through line of the series. The second season tackled gender identity, citizenship and climaxed with Lydia's (Rita Moreno) stroke, which forced the entire family to express what their lives would be like without their matriarch.
In Season 3, the show circles back to homophobia and racism from different perspectives than it did in Seasons 1 and 2, because they are themes that continue to affect the Alvarez family in different ways. There's also an exceptional episode about teen sex, as Penelope struggles to deal with the fact that Elena (Isabella Gomez) feels ready to take that step and that Lupe has no idea how to advise her daughter on lesbian sex. Similarly, when Alex (Marcel Ruiz) is caught doing drugs, One Day at a Time adds an extra layer to the drama by pointing out that Alex getting caught doing something a lot of teenagers experiment with has different consequences than if any of his white friends were to get caught. That honesty is what makes the show feel real and more poignant for the audience working at home.
Again, the season leads to an emotional final arc. Having watched the first two seasons, it felt expected for a crisis to hit the Alvarez family, but the surprising part came in how hard it managed to hit emotionally even though I knew it was coming. No spoilers here, but with two seasons of groundwork, One Day at a Time uses the latest batch of episodes to prove how attached we've become not only to the central Alvarez unit, but the people they've surrounded themselves with that have also become part of the family.
Sometimes when a show falls into a recognizable formula, it feels predictable and stale. One Day at a Time's intelligence uses that formula to its advantage to increase the warmth and familiarity with the audience and none of the contempt that usually comes with those emotions. In Season 3, you don't feel bored, but more embedded with the Alvarezes. This is a formula that works and only takes the show to better and more emotional heights because it's done the character work to earn that reaction from the audience.
This is a family you know and love, but you'll only enjoy getting deeper with them in its equally impressive Season 3.
One Day at a Time Season 3 premieres Friday, Feb. 8 on Netflix.