THE SERIES “One Day at a Time”
WHEN | WHERE Season 2 starts streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Just when you think you’ve forgotten how good a “traditional sitcom” can be, along comes one that makes you say: This Is It.
Those are, of course, the first words of the theme song from the ’70s hit about a single mom learning to take it as it comes, one day at a time. Now the familiar lyrics are sung by Gloria Estefan, because the acclaimed reboot’s single mom is of Cuban heritage, and she has all sorts of 21st century problems to muddle through.
While Penelope (sensational Justina Machado) left military service in Afghanistan behind her, her husband left her and their two kids to head back overseas (in private security). She’s working as a Los Angeles nurse, while her own mami (Rita Moreno in delicious comic relief) supervises their apartment and the kids — activist high schooler Elena (Isabella Gomez) and slick but unsure middle schooler Alex (Marcel Ruiz). They endure inevitable visits from neighbor Schneider (Todd Grinnell), who in this version is less leering handyman than sweetly helpless hipster. He’s in search of a real purpose and, coming from rich but AWOL parents, a real family.
That’s where these characters are finding themselves. That’s where they coped meaningfully in Season 1 with personal issues — depression, sexuality, faith, traditions — of the type pioneered by Norman Lear, producer of sitcom breakthrough “All in the Family” as well as both “One Day” incarnations. (He’s only 95.) And again, in these next 13 episodes from showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, the characters spend resonant time together, supporting each other, baring their souls. They don’t exist “in pieces” assembled by edited juxtapositions or explained by “modern” asides.
MY SAY Not that there’s anything wrong with that. TV comedy is richer since the single-camera format established itself as a flexible alternative to live-audience theatrics that had devolved into tired formula. But the single-camera craze has left us largely bereft of the intimate relatability once provided by multicamera families: “Family Ties,” “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne.”
That doesn’t mean sloppy sentiment or Very Special Episodes. It means the reassurance of joint experience among studio audience and viewers, bound together in warmth and laughter as extended scenes unfold without cutaways designed to keep things “moving.” It’s essentially, in emotional (and not pop cultural) terms, having a moment.
“One Day at a Time” doesn’t make us laugh so much as let us laugh. Not to say there aren’t some sitcom-y jokes, but they tend to feel real (as when frantic Penelope grabs a marker to scribble to-do items on her arm). Even Schneider’s “fire in the junkyard” punchline results from too much spinning, exercise becoming the latest of his self-seeking addictions.
And that’s the closest this well-crafted show gets to being gamy. Which in today’s comedy climate is saying something.
BOTTOM LINE Engaging cast, smart writing, laugh-out-loud execution. Gotta watch more than one at a time.