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The World Needs One Day at a Time, Now More Than Ever

Why the heartwarming comedy deserves to be saved from cancellation

Maureen Ryan

If the hue and cry over Netflix's cancellation of One Day at a Time has reached you, you've probably already heard some of the reasons viewers and critics are up in arms over the show's fate -- a fate that isn't set in stone, by the way. Another network could (and should) swoop in and save One Day at a Time, and in the week since Netflix decided not to go forward with a fourth season, any number of valid reasons have been offered for its continued survival.

As others have pointed out, One Day at a Time supplies a lot of things you don't see often on TV. We may be awash in Peak TV -- about 500 scripted shows exist at the moment, in addition to the thousands of older shows on various platforms -- but that doesn't mean that there really is something for everyone. It depends on which "someone" you are: TV still tends to be over-supplied with shows made by and for white people and pretty sparse when it comes to shows made by -- and starring -- women of color.

Beyond that basic fact -- one backed up by a wealth of statistics -- there are any number of reasons that One Day at a Time is not just loved but needed. It's about a Latinx family that is depicted with rare specificity (the Alvarez family is Cuban-American); it's a depiction of a working-class family whose struggles are examined with both compassion and a lack of saccharine sentiment; it examines hot-button issues without being preachy; it's one of the few shows in the half-hour realm with a Latinx woman creatively in the lead (Gloria Calderon Kellett is co-showrunner); and it has a number of thoughtful LGBTQ storylines that manage to be amusing without relying on demeaning humor or offensive stereotypes. It also must be emphasized that it provides many opportunities for Rita Moreno to prove, again and again, that she is an American treasure, which by itself is reason enough for One Day at a Time to have a much longer lifespan.

Rita Moreno, One Day at a Time
Michael Yarish/Netflix

All in all, One Day at a Time is the rare family sitcom that is much more than the sum of its parts. Over the course of its three reliably excellent seasons, One Day at a Time has proven that it is capable of balancing character-driven subtlety and current-events awareness with the kind of direct, well-wrought humor that mainstream sitcoms showcase when they're done right.

I stand by all those defenses of the show, most of which have been shouted from the rooftops in recent days by a host of activists, critics, and viewers. But to bring it to a more personal level, I have my own individual reasons for needing One Day at a Time to continue: I want to spend more time with these characters. The continued existence of the show, you see, is not just a social good and a prudent commercial move -- it's a balm for the soul. That is not a phrase you hear bandied about much lately, because balms are in short supply.

One Day at a Time and Sex Education Are Helping Immigrants and Their Queer Kids Bridge the Generational Gap

To some TV observers, 39 episodes -- One Day at a Time's run so far -- might seem like enough. However, it's not even close to enough, given that every day, more outrages hit the news headlines and our social media feeds. We should pay attention to those outrages, especially when they involve the further demonization of Latinx people, serve to make queer people feel not just unwanted but attacked, and provide more evidence that the American dream -- which never existed for many of our fellow citizens -- is not just hobbled but on life support. In order to fight the tide of evil, we need to be aware of its many manifestations. But staying on top of all those bad, sad, demoralizing developments can be exhausting.

One Day at a Time, a reliable provider of belly laughs and well-earned hugs, gives me a diversion from those terrors -- and a reason to keep fighting them. For the last three years, I have needed all the entertaining (yet relevant) distractions I can get. And then some.

I'm not done with the way that Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) delivers acerbic wisecracks in her group therapy sessions with other female veterans with PTSD. I continue to derive joy from the way that teenaged Elena (Isabella Gomez), who spouts off about social justice issues at the drop of a hat, becomes believably hesitant and awkward when trying to express romantic feelings for Syd (Sheridan Pierce), her non-binary "Syd-nificant other." I want to see more instances of the suave yet kind Alex (Marcel Ruiz) basking in his status as his grandmother's favorite and soaking up the wisdom of the varied array of women around him. I want to see Lydia (Moreno) preening and dancing and indulging her not-insignificant ego -- and prompting tears in the rare moments when Moreno makes the depth of Lydia's grief for her dead husband (or for her past life in Cuba) devastatingly apparent.

I know these people well, as do the show's writers, who have just begun to scratch the surface of what's funny, silly, and poignant about their dreams, relationships, and flaws. Every single person on this show is capable of both brilliant comedic delivery and emotionally wrenching realizations, and One Day at a Time's ability to deftly balance all of these elements brings me enormous pleasure. I mean, as the show's token doofy white guy, Todd Grinnell was delightfully oblivious as Schneider, but then he fell off the wagon toward the end of Season 3, and his humbled quest to regain his sobriety -- a goal encouraged even by the people he disappointed -- was suddenly transfixing.

What will Schneider -- and Elena, Alex, Lydia, Penelope, and the hilariously hapless Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) -- do next? I need to know.

Mike Yarish/Netflix

As the TV industry heads into the nail-biting part of pilot season, when executives amp up the year-round process of deciding which shows will be greenlit and which will end up on the scrap heap -- why in the world wouldn't they snap up One Day at a Time? The TV industry is beset by even more uncertainty than usual, as various mergers and other cataclysmic forces change the landscape daily. Why not go with something tried and true? One Day at a Time would fit right in on ABC's inclusive family-comedy roster. NBC just saved the wonderfully witty Brooklyn Nine-Nineand could play the hero again.

The One Day at a Time Cast's Emotional Reactions to the Netflix Cancellation Will Break Your Heart

CBS is about to say goodbye to its marquee multi-camera comedy, The Big Bang Theory; and of course I wouldn't make the argument One Day at a Time will get the same ratings, but the series, an update of a '70s sitcom, is a mainstream half-hour that is doing the legacy of TV legend Norman Lear proud. For CBS, a network that embraces tradition, accessibility, and stability, One Day at a Time might be a perfect fit -- perhaps on CBS All Access, a streaming service whose media profile could use a boost.

These days, it's hard for any show, let alone one heading into its fourth season, to make any noise. But the media and viewers would likely give whatever network revives One Day at a Time a hefty serving of glowing coverage and positive buzz, which count for a lot in this fractured media landscape. The opportunities to be a hero are plentiful, actually: Netflix could salvage its fraying reputation as an alleged home for inclusive programming by doing whatever it can to make sure One Day at a Time survives.

So... no. Those of us who love this show are being told by some to just zip our lips and accept the fate of another terrific show that provides a host of things that we -- as viewers and as human beings -- truly need. But I refuse to do that. I'm not going to say goodbye to the Alvarez clan.

To quote a famous line that Lydia Alvarado spoke in an iconic episode of One Day at a Time, "Not yet."

(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation.)