Around this time last year, Netflix delivered the bad news to the creators, talent and fans of One Day at a Time: no más. The show about a working-class Cuban American family in Los Angeles would not have its fourth season on the streaming service. We were left with so many questions, so many unfinished storylines! Fans rallied and launched an unprecedented online campaign to save the show. Showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce took meetings and shopped their series to new potential partners, eventually finding a new home in Pop TV.
A lot has changed in a year, but thankfully many things about One Day at a Time have remained intact in Season 4, including the show’s phenomenal cast and its ability to churn out topical and compelling storylines episode after episode. Justina Machado may earn some of the biggest laughs of the series yet within the first three episodes as her character Penelope struggles to navigate the pressure to be an independent woman who still wants a partner-in-life. She also endures a truly mortifying experience that forces an awkward conversation with her son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz). It’s just one of the many moments you’ll realize how quickly he and his sister Elena (Isabella Gomez) have grown up on the show. A long time has passed since the show’s season 1 finale centered on her quinceañera.
Now, Elena’s on her way to learning how to drive on her own and figuring out whether or not to keep her relationship with Syd (Sheridan Pierce) going as they’re getting ready for college. Alex finds himself in the unenviable position of introducing his new girlfriend to all of the women in his family, including his overly protective, doting grandmother Lydia (Rita Moreno), who’s still outrageously trying to meddle in everyone’s lives. Schneider’s (Todd Grinnell) evolving role from kooky landlord to Penelope’s go-to confidant continues to pay off as one of the show’s best story arcs. Meanwhile, poor Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) faithfully delivers his upbeat Eeyore presence with even more peppy earnestness than before.
Now reduced to a mere 22-minute runtime per episode to account for commercial breaks, One Day at a Time hits its punchlines and messages quicker than ever before. Within minutes of the show’s first episode this season, the show takes a jab at Netflix and moves on quickly to welcome a guest cameo from Ray Romano as a census taker. It’s an important reminder for the show’s audience to make sure they answer the census, especially after so much misinformation has led up to this edition. The dialogue between various members of the family and Romano’s exasperated worker is both comical and thought-provoking, pointing out some of the confusion and feelings around identity that can come with something as benignly bureaucratic as the census.
In another storyline, Penelope must deal with her own money-related anxieties when faced with an unexpected expense. It’s a similarly funny yet poignant episode on a topic few other shows would ever address, let alone make it the center of an entire episode. It’s also an episode that feels even more moving now as millions of Americans face a job loss or financial insecurity.
One Day at a Time is still in production in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s impossible to know yet how the many production restrictions will affect the season’s later episodes or if they will be permitted to finish out the season in its planned order. Already, the show’s use of live studio audiences has been shelved along with just about every other show from late night to Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
Still, I can think of no better comfort TV to come back to take our minds off of this crisis. Think of it as a welcome distraction of the familiar, of a grandmother grilling us about our love lives or worrying about something as simple as carpooling. No matter the chaos they face, these characters still come together in the end, and what better time for that message than right now?
For those of us who can’t be near our own Lupitas, abuelas, Papitos, Elenas, Syds or even Schneiders, we can at least spend some time with this TV family and learn a self-care lesson from the show’s title: take things one day at a time.
The fourth season of One Day at a Time begins airing Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on March 24, 2020, on Pop TV.