Like fine wine and stinky cheese and (insert your favorite cliché here), some things get better with age.
That’s certainly true of the Netflix reboot of the classic sitcom “One Day at a Time.” Season three drops tonight (Friday, Feb. 8) and the show continues to crackle with great comedy while tackling meaty social issues in interesting and sensitive ways. LGBT characters and issues are still a central concern of the series.
To bring queer fans old and new up to date, the original show ran on CBS from 1975-1984, part of Norman Lear’s ground-breaking stable of socially relevant and gay-friendly sitcoms. The series starred Broadway baby Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano, a divorced mother of two in Indianapolis. Mackenzie Phillips (who has appeared as a guest star in the new series) played her rebellious older daughter Julie and Valerie Bertinelli played the wise-cracking younger daughter Barbara. Pat Harrington played the building superintendent Schneider. The show boldly tackled Ann’s challenges as a single mother and a working woman, as well as the romantic entanglements of all three Romano women.
In 2017, Lear and producing partner Brent Miller approached Netflix with the idea of re-imaging the iconic series with a Latinx family at the center. Gloria Calderon Kellett and her husband Mike Royce were brought in to develop the series and serve as show-runners. Kellett, who is Cuban American, drew on her own family stories to create the characters and story arcs. (Her family photos are included in the visual montage that plays behind the opening credits and she appears as a bride in the season three finale.)
The new “One Day at a Time” stars the amazing Justina Machado as Penelope Riera Alvarez, a veteran of the United States Army Nurse Corps and a single mother who is raising Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Stephen Tobolowsky plays her boss, Dr. Leslie Berkowitz and EGOT winner and legendary gay icon Rita Moreno plays her flamboyant mother Lydia. The central cast is rounded out by Todd Grinnell as Dwayne Schneider, the rich Canadian who owns the apartment building.
Like the original series, the new series uses a multi-camera format and a live audience effectively. Like most series, the show took some time to find its groove, but after jettisoning some secondary characters and smoothing out the divergent acting styles of the cast, the show hit a strong stride and became a critical and popular success, especially among the Latinx and LGBT communities.
Beyond dealing with Penelope’s struggles as a single mother and a working woman, the series also deals with her struggles with PTSD from her service in Afghanistan. The central storyline for season one was the fiery feminist Elena’s reluctant planning for her quinceanera and her decision to come out to her family as a lesbian.
Building on the hard-won success of season one, season two soared and the outspoken series continued to tackle issues of sexuality, sexism, racism, class, citizenship, addiction and mental illness, and modern romance with delicacy and humor. A highlight of the season was Penelope explaining to Lydia how to use the correct pronouns when referring to Elena’s non-binary friends, especially her romantic partner Syd (Sheridan Pierce).
Season three continues to delight, combining a lively sense of humor with a thoughtful treatment of social issues. Elena is still dating Syd, who rebukes Elena by saying she’s “woker than a barnyard rooster;” Penelope struggles with her PTSD and juggling dating, work, parenting and school; Leslie continues his lovelorn courtship of Lydia; Schneider deals with addiction and his loneliness; and, Alex experiments with marijuana.
In addition to Syd and the entire principal cast, several recurring characters come back for season three, including James Martinez as Victor Alvarez, Penelope’s ex-husband; Ed Quinn as Max Ferraro, Penelope’s Colombian boyfriend; and Tony Plana as Berto Riera, Lydia’s debonair late husband. Raúl Castillo (HBO’s “Looking” and “We the Animals”) joins the recurring cast as one of Penelope’s classmates and Danny Pino (“Law & Order: SVU”) appears as Penelope’s brother Vito.
The new season has a lovely story arc, starting with a funeral and ending with a surprise wedding. Midway through is a romantic Valentine Day’s episode that celebrates love in many forms.
The funeral episode features several wonderful guest stars, including Gloria Estefan as Lydia’s estranged sister, veteran Latinx actress Liz Torres as “Cousin Bitchy,” and Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz (both from “Brooklyn Nine Nine”) as cousins with secrets of their own. Estefan, who sings the series’ revamped theme song, even performs a delicious duet with Moreno.
That alone is reason enough to tune in to season three of the very queer re-imagining of “One Day at a Time.”