Rare is the occasion when American audiences have the opportunity to see people of color written and portrayed as they truly are. All too often, our media further reduces marginalized communities to negative and inaccurate stereotypes. For the Latino community, these stereotypes include (but are not limited to): the undocumented immigrant, the “spicy” Latina who can barely speak English, the gang-affiliated thug who’s too caught up in his machismo to be his own hero. Off the top of my head, I can think of only a few examples where Latino characters are shown to audiences in a positive light: 1997’s Selena which propelled Jennifer Lopez to international fame, Nickelodeon’s Taina of the early 2000’s, and ABC’s Ugly Betty.
And now there’s One Day at a Time, Netflix’s brand new remake of the 1970’s classic that chronicles the trials, tribulations, and outright hilarity of a multi-generational Cuban-American family all living in the same household. Unlike many onscreen Latino families, the Alvarez family is comprised of funny, intelligent, and thoughtful characters who have the capacity to be proud and patriotic Americans while also appreciating the beauty of their Cuban heritage.
In its smart and sensitive portrayal of the Latino experience, One Day at a Time sets a new precedent in comedy: never does it use language barriers, immigration, or cultural differences as the butt of any joke. Instead, it highlights these issues and offers them up as opportunities for the audience to learn, to understand, to accept.
If that’s not enough to pique your interest, here are six other reasons to give this show a watch:
1. At its core, One Day at a Time is a feminist show.
One Day at a Time is all about smashing the patriarchy. Not only is the Alvarez family led by a single mother, but it often examines important issues through a feminist lens. The show sets this up in the very first episode when Elena (Isabella Gomez) has concerns about celebrating her fifteenth birthday with a Quinceañera, an event which has historically been used to mark a young girl’s transition into womanhood and her readiness to marry.
Throughout the show’s first season, the audience is constantly asked to question its understanding of feminism and whether our society works for or against women. To do this, One Day at a Time addresses topics like equal pay, women in the military, age and sexuality, and what it means to be the breadwinner of the family. And it’s all done with thoughtful, intelligent humor.
2. It reflects on the importance of women from generation to generation.
It’s not just that One Day at a Time is a feminist show. It’s also that in forwarding the idea that women can be strong, powerful, and capable of creating their own destiny, the show examines how crucial women are in shaping the way their families navigate the world around them.
From generation to generation—from grandmother to granddaughter—we see how the Alvarez family has evolved in terms of accepting all the ways in which women are allowed to exist. We see Abuelita Lydia (Rita Moreno), who was wholly committed to her late husband, come to understand her daughter Penelope’s (Justina Machado) need to explore her identity outside of marriage. We see Penelope struggle with but ultimately accept the fact that her daughter is gay and cannot share in all the same experiences that she does. And we see Elena bring all of that full circle to inform and educate her mother and grandmother on why they, too, are as strong and independent as she will one day grow to be.
3. It offers a realistic view on multilingualism in America.
It’s not uncommon to see immigrant or first-generation American characters struggling to navigate the English-speaking world. But in One Day at a Time, that’s not the case. Despite the fact that matriarch Lydia hails from Cuba and speaks with a heavy accent, the Alvarez family uses English as their primary language, their dialogue peppered with Spanish words or references only when necessary. In the Alvarez kids, the show even presents the concept of Latinos who don’t speak Spanish at all. It’s a refreshing—and accurate—view of how language usage can change from generation to generation within a single family.
4. It tackles and normalizes an array of difficult topics.
One of the great things about One Day at a Time is that it doesn’t shy away from addressing topics that many people, particularly Latinos, consider too shameful to even think about. For many, the idea of openly discussing mental health, being LGBTQ, or having differing religious views is simply off the table. But One Day at a Time normalizes all of these issues by allowing the Alvarez family to consider, discuss, and work through them.
5. It flips the switch on race and cultural relations.
Audiences have grown accustomed to seeing characters of color assimilate to the ways of white Americanism. In One Day at a Time, it is the white characters who are finding ways to bridge the gap between themselves and the Alvarez family. What’s interesting about this is that it puts the Alvarez family in a position where they have the power to accept or reject what doesn’t make sense to them, rather than simply subscribe to things that go against who they are and what they stand for.
For example, when Schneider (Todd Grinnell) shows up at the Alvarez apartment wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, the family gracefully (but firmly) schools him on why it’s offensive. Schneider, in turn, welcomes the information with an open mind and changes his attire thereafter. It’s a great example of how understanding our differences can bind us rather than divide us.
6. Rita Moreno (can you say legend?!)
Let’s face it: Rita Moreno is a living legend and her presence in One Day at a Time should be enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. As one of twelve EGOTs, Moreno carries a legacy that’s left many in awe of her immense talent. And in One Day at a Time, she shows audiences the true essence of who she is as a performer: funny, emotional, energetic, and all-around adorable.
One Day at a Time is available now on Netflix.