Last year on a late afternoon in June, I found myself at Sony Pictures Studios in line for a taping of Netflix’s One Day at a Time (all of their episodes are filmed with a live audience.) I also found myself holding back from shaking the white 20-something aspiring actor in front of me who did not know who Norman Lear was. Thankfully, a professional blogger in his forties filled her in on the achievements of the father of the modern family sitcom.
For those who haven’t been to a live taping, here’s the 411. You have to arrive at least an hour before showtime, in my case 4:30 PM. I passed two security checkpoints where cell phones are the equivalent of anthrax. After the checkpoint we were led single file through Sony Studios. And it will kind of magical.
Then the magic abruptly stopped when our guide, in a voice akin to a guard on Orange is the New Black, informed us that it was our last chance to pee. She reminded us that the taping is four hours. And that we’d get a pee break mid-way through, but she highly encouraged us to, “Take care of your business now.” Advice I didn’t heed and came to regret later.
Pero, no importa, because at this point we had walked into the studio where in less than an hour we’d get see Rita Moreno do what she does best: enliven the room (and sometimes forget her lines.) The studio is cold, but I don’t care, they are playing ’80s Whitney Houston. So, I sing and dance and wait for the audience to file in because I’m a single ticket holder and they’ll only seat me until all the people with friends have been seated together. My heart went aflutter when I heard an abuelita, mama, and hija say they had taken the day off from work to watch the show together. The rest of the audience was a beautiful array of shades and ages.
I was seated next to a white man in his 50s and his teenage daughter. She seemed really excited to be there. He seemed really interested in taking up half my seat. As our butts battled, the warm-up comedian came out. He welcomed us and again reminded us of the rules (aka no escape). He proceeded to “warm us up” by asking if there were any groups in the house. There were. There was a group of about 15 young black girls from a high school celebrating their latest volleyball tournament win, a 30-something male R&B singer (who, without missing a beat, handed out cards with his social media handles on it), and a group of 50-year-old white women from a self-empowering meetup group. All in all, an interesting, if not bewildering, mix that speaks to the reach the show has.
The comic then proceeded to calibrate our laughs. You remember Full House? Friends? You remember those annoying laughs that you thought was a fake laugh track? That’s us! And they need to calibrate us because they can’t run the risk of us being too loud or too soft with our laughter. This part was fun. We jammed a little more to 80s and 90s hits, and after a particularly colorful clap and sing-a-long to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Shoop,”we were warmed up and ready. This is when the first heartstrings got pulled.
The comic introduced a video recapping the major plot points of the show’s first season. There was laughter and by the end, there were tears. And not just mine. That’s the magic of this show. It effortlessly reminds us of our shared humanity by giving us the feels.
After that, the one and only Norman Lear came out. He gave a wonderful speech about how crucial inclusion and representation are. Then he gave mad props to co-showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett, dropped the mic, and floated away as Gloria Estefan’s voice blasted out of the speakers in the show’s theme song “This is It”and the cast was introduced.
We lost our shit.
Present and accounted for were Penelope (Justina Machado), Alex (Marcel Ruiz), Elena (Isabella Gomez), Shneider (Todd Grinnell), Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky), and Lydia/Abuela (Rita Moreno). When the latter came out, people stood up from their seats and chanted: “Rita! Rita! Rita!” She ate it up. And just like that it was time for business.
SPOILER ALERT: Plot points from One Day at a Time’s season two are revealed below.
I attended the taping for “The Turn,“the first episode of the show’s second season. It centers around Alex changing from a kid to a man and the repercussions of growing up and becoming aware of your otherness. The episode was shot in sequence. It started at Alex’s baseball game with an on-point scene where the family cheers him on as they eat lechón, arroz, beans, and Abuela dabs rums on her skin. It was shot about 5 times and each time it was funnier than the last.
Let me tell you something, if you have to be stuck in a room with strangers for four hours, these are the strangers you want to be shut in with. I’m talking about the cast and the audience. In between takes, the cast would mingle with each other and with us plebes. One one point, Rita and Marcel jammed to “Whoomp! (There It Is).” And when the aforementioned R&B singer volunteered to belt out a song, Isabella came over and held up her phone like a lighter!
To our surprise, there was a professional salsa dancer in the audience who, after being egged on to share his talents, slayed Marc Anthony’s “Valio la pena” To his delight (and ours) Rita was watching and congratulated him. He then took the mic from the comic and professed his love for her. At that moment, he was all of us.
I want to emphasize how professional these actors are. They are beasts. They go from 0 to 60 in half a second. After one of our breaks, they had to shoot a particularly tricky scene. In it, Alex confesses that he hit a kid because he told him to “go back to Mexico.” After he disappears into his room, the rest of the family share personal moments of racism and feeling belittled. (Except Elena who’s bummed to discover she’s white-passing). Rita Moreno has this beautiful moment where she manages to be funny and poignant at the same time. Es tan lindo. It’s heartwarming to watch a family go through something together. And that’s what it felt like. The first take it felt like we were watching a family understand how they’re viewed and how to react to it. By the fifth take, you felt like you were part of the family. This cast is just sublime.
The four hours flew by. Let that be a testament to the writing and acting. You don’t care about the numerous takes. You don’t care Rita kept forgetting her lines. Really, you don’t. You’re too caught up in the magic of what you’re witnessing. So much so, that it wasn’t until the very last beat that I noticed half my butt was hanging out of my seat. By curtain call there were no butts in seats. We clapped in awe and gratitude of the loving brown family bowing in front of us.
One Day at a Time is streaming on Netflix.