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TV REVIEW: New day for ‘One Day at a Time’

Sparkling fourth season continues adventures of Cuban-American family



one day at a time season four review, gay news, Washington Blade
The Alvarez family in ‘One Day at a Time.’ (Photo courtesy Pop TV)

It only takes a few minutes for ingenious show runner Gloria Calderon Kellett to remind LGBT audiences why they fell in love with the reboot of “One Day at a Time.”

The fourth season opens with a fast-paced screwball comedy scene that smoothly reintroduces all the characters and reinforces the sitcom’s effortless flair for both humor and social commentary.

In a wonderful cameo, Ray Romano plays Brian, a bedraggled census enumerator who has to sort out the three generations of the Cuban-American Alvarez family as well as various members of their “logical” family who keep on popping into the scene.

He starts with Penelope (the outstanding Justina Machado), the frazzled head of the family, an Army veteran and a nurse practitioner. Then there’s teenage daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez), an out and proud lesbian, who is in a relationship with Syd (Sheridan Pierce), who identifies as non-binary and refers to themself as Elena’s “syd-nificant” other. There’s also her teenage son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) and her feisty mother Lydia Riera (a delightfully over-the-top performance by EGOT winner Rita Moreno).

Brian also meets Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the “rich white cis male ally” who owns the building and is an honorary member of the Alvarez family, and Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (amazingly deadpan show-biz veteran Stephen Tobolowsky), Penelope’s boss and Lydia’s platonic boyfriend.

In the midst of all this, there’s also an argument about whether or not the family should participate in the Census. Penelope declares “a guy wanting a list of all the Latinos in my house? No thanks!” but the hyper-socially engaged Elena passionately counters that the census is crucial for determining representation and federal funding. It’s a classic “ODAAT” moment.

Developed by the legendary television producer Norman Lear, the original “One Day at a Time” premiered in 1975. It introduced audiences to divorced mom Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) and her daughters Julie and Barbara (Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli), as well as the ever-present building superintendent Schneider (Pat Harrington Jr.). The popular and occasionally controversial series ran nine seasons through 1984.

Working with Lear, Kellett and production partner Mike Royce reimagined the groundbreaking sitcom with a Hispanic family at the core. The new series premiered on Netflix in 2017 but was abruptly cancelled in 2019 after three successful seasons. The series was picked up by Pop TV, the network that introduced American audiences to the LGBT series “Schitt’s Creek.” New episodes are dropping weekly, although production on the final episodes of the season has been halted due to COVID-19 concerns.

The show remains as vibrant as ever, a proud celebration of Cuban-American culture and queer family values. The writing is sharp and pungent, striking a fine balance between comedy, sentiment and insightful societal analysis. The show is stuffed with zippy quips and great physical comedy, but the humor is always well-grounded in the reality of the characters and their lives. The characters are well-rounded, appealing and full of interesting quirks.

With three award-winning seasons under their belts, the cast has developed an easy rapport with each other and the acting remains excellent. Machado anchors the series with her lively sense of humor, deep compassion, aching vulnerability and fierce resilience. Penelope has been faced with serious issues (including PTSD, addiction, abuse, racism, sexism and economic insecurity), but she’s a survivor, thanks in part to the encouragement of her support group for female veterans. The group is led by Mackenzie Phillips, who starred in the original series, and includes Ramona (a sparkling Judy Reyes) as a lesbian who loves to flirt with Penelope.

The rest of the cast is equally strong. The goofy chemistry between lovebirds Gomez and Pierce is delightful. The sexual bond between them is by turns electric and comic, expressed with lots of PDAs and lots of exasperated explanations of their sexualities, proper pronoun usage and a variety of other social justice issues. The easy-going Ruiz is an excellent comic foil for his more eccentric family members. Moreno is pitch-perfect as the exuberant family matriarch, combining a deep love of her family, a fierce pride in her Cuban heritage and her Catholic faith, brilliant comic timing, a pulsating sensuality and a wonderfully idiosyncratic use of American idioms, as well as terrific dance moves and a well-honed instinct for dramatic entrances. 

LGBT fans of “One Day at a Time” have a lot to look forward to as the series settles into its new home on Pop TV. The opening episodes include a lively discussion of female orgasms, the return of one of Penelope’s ex-boyfriends, a girlfriend for Alex, lots of funny Halloween costumes and the penny-pinching Penelope shopping for a new couch.

Here’s hoping the proudly queer Alvarez family settles in for a long run on Pop.

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‘And Just Like That’ is clunky, but shows promise

SATC reboot suffers without Samantha’s irreverence



‘And Just Like That’ reunites three of the original four from ‘Sex and the City.’ (Screen capture via HBO Max)

Just in time for the holidays, “And Just Like That,” the 10-part “Sex and the City” (SATC) revival has premiered on HBO Max.

The first two episodes of “And Just Like That” aired on Dec. 9. One episode will air weekly until the show’s Feb. 3 season finale.

I have only seen the first two episodes of “And Just Like That.”

The reboot has its awkward, clunky, annoying moments, but shows glimmers of tenderness, wit, and promise.

It’s not a lump of coal in your stocking. Yet, it’s too soon to tell whether it’s a gift from your loving, but clueless aunt or an awesome present from your BFF.

But, it’s definitely worth putting under your tree.

How I miss “funky spunk” “Father Fuck” and “The Rabbit!”

If you’re an SATC aficionado, you’ll know that while Samantha couldn’t abide “funky spunk,” she longed to canoodle with a hot priest. (Naturally, he was “Father Fuck” in Samantha’s fantasies.) And, you’ll remember how much pleasure “the Rabbit” (a vibrator) gave Charlotte and Miranda.

Those are just a few moments that “Sex and The City” fans have missed since the arch, fashion-trend maker, sexual-taboo-breaker, HBO show’s 2004 finale.

What we’ve pined for wasn’t just the sex. It was the wit and friendship of the four bright, badass, professional, witty and, it can’t be denied, privileged women, who were the stars of SATC: writer and sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), art dealer Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and public relations pro Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall).

We missed hearing the ladies talk openly, and wittily, sometimes tenderly or thoughtfully, about everything from “funky spunk” to “shortcomings” to their affairs with married men to threesomes to their abortions.

After the SATC finale, there were two “Sex and the City” movies. The first, released in 2008, was mediocre. The second, released in 2010, was beyond horrible.

After all these years, it’s lovely to see Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte (along with their husbands: Big, Steve and Harry respectively).

But, there’s a gaping hole! There’s no Samantha!

It’s no secret that Cattrall and Parker weren’t getting along off-screen. Cattrall didn’t want to be in “And Just Like That.”

You can’t blame the SATC folks for forging ahead with “And Just Like That.” Interest in the SATC characters has remained high, and shows with female characters in their 50s are few and far between.

Now that Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte are in their mid-fifties, “And Just Like That” could become “The Golden Girls” of our era.

But that’s not likely without Samantha, who was the essential queer sensibility of SATC.

Samantha’s irreverent, she loves sex, quiets babies down with vibrators, and though she’d never cop to it, has the proverbial heart of gold.

“And Just Like That” needs an infusion of irreverence.

SATC had problems of representation. Its characters were too white and too privileged. For its time, it had a queer quotient. Carrie’s best friend Stanford Blatch (the late Willie Garson) was gay, as was Charlotte’s best friend Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone). But its depictions of bisexuals, lesbians, and trans people were stereotyped at best – bi and transphobic at worst.

“And Just Like That” works hard to correct those problems.

There are several characters who are people of color — from a law school professor to an upper-class mom.

Stanford and Anthony are now a bickering married couple. And there is Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez) a “queer, nonbinary, Mexican-Irish diva,” a podcaster, who is Carrie’s boss.

It’s great that the show is trying to do better with representation, but it’s trying too hard.

We face serious issues – from parenting to grief – as we age. But, as any “Golden Girls” disciple knows, you don’t lose your sense of humor or lustiness as you grow older.

If “And Just Like That,” learns that, then it’ll be a great show.

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MTV ‘True Life Crime’ host reinvents genre

Dometi Pongo puts focus on victims of anti-LGBTQ violence



Dometi Pongo hosts MTV’s ‘True Life Crime.’ (Photo courtesy MTV)

The last place most of us would expect to find a true crime show is on MTV. Yet that’s exactly where you’ll find “True Life Crime” and its host Dometi Pongo, who on Aug. 24 will take a journalistic deep dive into the Mississippi murder of trans teen Mercedes Williamson – just one of the brutal, tragic stories covered by the show since its debut in 2020.

They are the kinds of stories, of course, that make fans of the genre eagerly stay up late to binge watch old episodes of “Cold Case Files” or the latest Netflix serial murderer doc. But while those shows content themselves with being a guilty pleasure for their viewers, this one aims a little higher.

To begin with, it primarily covers violence against people from marginalized communities; and though it examines facts and evidence, those take a back seat to discussion of the social issues around the crimes. Instead of placing all the emphasis on the “how” and “who,” the show puts it on the “why,” taking the spotlight from the killer and shining it on the victim instead – a far cry from the kind of truncated treatment usually bestowed by mainstream news sources when covering crimes against marginalized people.

Pongo – a charismatic host whose passion for amplifying the stories of marginalized communities is tied to his roots in Chicago’s south side – spoke to the Blade about the intentions behind the show, and the need to include the stories of LGBTQ victims.

BLADE: Besides the upcoming episode about Mercedes, this season has already covered two other cases involving anti-LGBTQ violence: the murders of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, who were a lesbian couple, and Muhlaysia Booker, a trans woman of color. Did you come into the show wanting to bring visibility to these kinds of cases?

DOMETI PONGO: It’s my connection to marginalized communities that made me want to do it, to talk about other marginalized communities that I’m not even a part of, but which deserve a voice as well. I’ll be honest with you, at a high level I understood the dangers of homophobia and transphobia in our communities, but I didn’t know the numbers. I didn’t know how often victims were dead-named, how under-reported anti-trans violence goes. I didn’t realize how deep this really got, until I was in the thick of it, reporting on these issues.

The first season we did the story of Kedarie Johnson, who was a gender-fluid teen that was killed in Iowa. That story really helped to open my eyes, and so for this season we wanted to double down.

BLADE: The show differs from other crime shows because it’s more concerned with exploring motives and issues around the cases than it is about the facts. Is that a conscious choice?

PONGO: There’s a conscious idea of either answering questions that the family never had answered, or looking at elements of the person’s identity, or the world around the crime, and figure out how we can tell a fuller story. You know, in some states they can secure a murder conviction without proving motive, so you can have a family go through the entire litigation process, all the way up to the killer being convicted, and they’ll never know why their loved one was killed. The pain that comes from that is gut-wrenching. So, aside from just taking you through the crime and how the person is caught, what can we add to the conversation that can give some solace to the families?

BLADE: As a host, you bring a lot to the show. You’re great on camera and your passion really shines through – but you always deflect the attention toward the family and the community around the victim.

PONGO: Thank you, I appreciate you noticing that. I’m the lens through which the subject gets to tell their story. If I share something about losses and experiences that I have, it’s because I know that human-to-human connection will help the subject open up. As journalists, we’re told never to become the story – and now we’re in this age where you have to have a social media presence, you have to have some charisma about you, you have to be a host of sorts. But I want to make sure that I’m a human first when I’m talking to these families, and I’m glad if that shines through.

BLADE: It does, and so does the fact that your show doesn’t sensationalize the way others do. There’s nothing tabloid about it.

PONGO: We do want to differentiate ourselves. Why would you come to MTV for a true crime story rather than other networks that have been doing them for years? We’ve got to put our bent on it. We’re focused on talking to young folks who live in the pop culture space, and the “True Life” franchise is the perfect avenue for that, because it’s all about the true lives of the subjects, and we wanted to be sure that that was highlighted.

BLADE: The focus on social justice issues certainly gives the show a youthful perspective.

PONGO: They say the young have the energy, and the elders have the wisdom, and we want to arm the energy of these young people – these bright, action-oriented young people who mobilized with the racial reckoning of 2020, who are leading the charge – we want to arm them with context and information about more stories, and how everything in our society kind of folds into what happens. Many of our episodes end with a call to action. Who do you call to change this law? Who do you email? As effective a tool social media is, so is voting, so is emailing legislators, so is getting involved in advocacy groups. We arm our audience with the information that they need to keep doing the great work they’re doing.

BLADE: It’s really activism taking the form of entertainment.

PONGO: That’s it, 100 percent. I started out at a Black-owned radio station on the South Side of Chicago. Al Sharpton held the afternoon slot for his show, each host was very community oriented, so I cut my teeth at that intersection of information and social justice – but I’m also a fan of hip-hop, I’m a fan of music, so when I’m not doing “True Life Crime” I’m doing MTV News interviews with my favorite artists. Investigating that intersection of social justice and pop culture is where I think a lot of our power lies. I think that’s where the young people are sitting right now.

BLADE: What do you hope they take away from these stories?

PONGO: If there’s anything that I want people to take away it’s this: After the show, whatever social justice issue we talk about, research it. Dig into it. That guilty pleasure feels a little bit less guilty if you do the work after that TV cuts off. 

“True Life Crime” airs on MTV at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. All past episodes are available to watch on the MTV website.

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Arts & Entertainment

Show must go on- Lil Nas X’s embarrassing wardrobe malfunction on SNL



Lil Nas X performing on NBC's SNL May 22, 2021 (Screenshot via SNL YouTube channel)

NEW YORK – Montero Lamar Hill, known by his stage name Lil Nas X, was performing his latest hit single ‘Call Me By Your Name’ from his album MONTERO on NBC’s Saturday Night Live when his pants ripped at the crotch.

The openly out singer-songwriter- rapper glanced down then back up at the audience, covered the affected area with his hand and kept singing in what reviewers and commentators are calling “the gayest performance ever on national television” and “iconic.”


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