“One Day at a Time” Brings Even More Heart and Humor and Gayness to Season 2

One Day at a Time leads with its heart first. That was true in the popular Netflix sitcom’s first season, and that remains true throughout the second.

If you still haven’t seen it (or need a refresher), Netflix’s One Day at a Time is an modernized version of Norman Lear’s 1975 hit show about a single mother raising her two children, except in the new iteration the family is Cuban-American dealing with an updated set of social problems. The mother, Penelope (Justina Machado), known as Lupita to her family, is an Army veteran who is living with anxiety and depression stemming in part from her time in the service. The eldest daughter, Elena (Isabella Gomez), is a teen whose coming out story was the heartbeat of the first season. Penelope’s son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz), lovingly referred to as “Papito,” can charm any room. EGOT winner and living legend Rita Moreno stars as Penelope’s mother and the children’s grandmother, Lydia, also known as Abuelita, who lives with the family and takes care of the household. If you’ve watched the original before, yes there is a still a landlord named Schneider who hangs out around the apartment, but the new version casts him as younger and much more empathetic than the original.

So, let’s get back to its heart. One Day at a Time is the most generous, compassionate, loving family sitcom on television. That type of description often means a show is leaning toward the saccharine, but instead, One Day at a Time veers towards genuine. It’s not afraid to have frank, sometimes dark discussions — there’s perhaps no better case for this than the season’s episode dedicated Penelope’s ongoing battle with depression, or Elena’s estranged relationship with her father, who has poorly handled her coming out. Not everything is picture perfect, or cleanly fixed by the end of the episode with a group hug. Nevertheless, this is a family that loves each other relentlessly. Warmth emanates from every line, every angle, every corner.

In addition to the undeniable chemistry between castmates, I think part of that warmth comes from the format of the show itself. One Day at a Time is shot as a traditional multi-cam sitcom, complete with a live studio audience and a supplemental laugh track. As any ’90s or ’00s kid who grew up sneaking Nick at Nite past their bedtime or having their after-school snack to syndicated classics will tell you, multi-cam sitcoms are comforting in their own right. Think of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls, or even Friends. Still, the genre fell out of style with the onset of mockumentary style comedies like The Office or Modern Family and more ambitious storytelling models like 30 Rock or black-ish.

In the current slate of trendy television, a laugh track can feel outdated or, if we are honest with ourselves, even a little bit corny. Over the course of its two seasons, One Day at a Time has put forth a compelling argument that a little corny doesn’t always have to be a bad thing — and if nothing else, it doesn’t have to be limiting. The show uses the intimacy and familiarity of the genre to their advantage, luring their audience into cutting edge and weighty conversations from the comfort of the Alvarez’s living room.

One of those conversations? The complexities of being Latinx in Donald Trump’s America. The President’s name is never mentioned directly, which is surprising given how strongly the effects of his presence are felt throughout the fist half of the new season. Instead of focusing on specific headlines or upcoming laws, One Day at a Time deftly and accurately explores the interpersonal; delving into what it takes to keep your Latinx family fortified in an environment that’s openly hostile towards people of color. Executive Producer and co-showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett made note of the purposeful difference between the first and second seasons, telling Remezcla, “We try to be true about what’s going on with this family… there’s been a change since we premiered after the election. I could feel a shift, and other Latinos in the room were feeling it as well”.

The show also doesn’t shy away from ups and downs of being a young Latina lesbian. Elena Alvarez has become something of a teen idol for those of us at Autostraddle since her coming out storyline, and subsequent gayest Quinceañera ever, in the first season. The second season keeps developing her character, including having a new love interest, Syd, who uses they/them pronouns and becomes Elena’s girlfriend.

If there is anything cuter than watching Elena get help from her Abuelita in learning how to flirt or more triumphant than Elena and Syd’s gay nerdy teen love for each other, I haven’t seen it yet. I mean, they dress as Dr. Who and the Tardis for their local comic-con, come on! Syd’s pronoun choice is deeply important for non-binary gender representation, and is handled with the show’s trademark care and wit. Also, the already great gay jokes in the second season are bolder, more frequent, and gayer than ever before. A bit where the show pays homage to the costuming of the 1970s original Schneider character is played as Elena learning to be butch.

The show doesn’t loose track of the difficulties of gay adolescence. My first real ugly-cry of the season came from an episode where Elena confronts her father, Victor, who walked out of her quinceañera in the first season finale. Heather Hogan has talked about the ways that another gay teen, Fresh Off the Boat’s Nicole, has been healing and invigorating for her, because Nicole is a teenager in the late 1990s who is experiencing her gayness in a way that Heather was not able to at the same time period and age. I feel similarly about Elena. I was not out in high school, for a lot of reasons, but also because I didn’t have working model for what being a young queer Latina would even look like. Watching Elena has been healing, and I’m so excited for the Latinx teens out there right now who can point to her as a model that I didn’t have.

Speaking of heart-wrenching, Justina Machado and Rita Moreno bring their best work out to play in One Day at a Time’s second season. In Vanity Fair, Moreno credited Machado as being “the best acting partner” she’s ever had. Taking into account Moreno’s long and illustrious career, that’s the highest of compliments — and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been watching Machado work for decades; she’s a rare and multilayered talent. It’s a tragedy that there are so few well developed Latina parts in Hollywood that she wasn’t afforded the opportunity to really show the full range of her ability onscreen until now. My second, though certainly not last, ugly cry of the season? Watching her pull back the curtains and take us into the depths of Penelope’s depression. It left me exposed and raw in front of my television. I still haven’t adequately found ways to express the feelings that her performance unearthed.

As a Puerto Rican, I’m pretty sure I was born loving Rita Moreno, so I’m an easy mark when comes to fawning over her on camera. That said, I am floored that at four years away from 90 years old, she is busy creating what is arguably the greatest role of her career this side of West Side Story. If Elena was the emotional centerpiece of season one, then season two definitely belongs to Abuelita, who keeps her entire family together with a diva fabulousness, quick wit, sexual innuendos, and an open heart. Mi Reina, my queen, I will love you forever.

The tight rope balance between light, though nonetheless sharp, comedy and genuinely moving drama is no easy feat. One Day at a Time hits the sweet spot.

Last year, I joked to a friend that One Day at a Time is the most feminist show on television, but this year I’m willing to make that claim seriously. They approach every issue on their docket with an intersectional lens, without ever losing the mother/daughter relationships and the intimacies between Latina women that are at its core. Their jokes find the delicate place between being specific to our community, the ways that we poke fun, but also the ways that we love, and still being catchy to a broader audience. They aren’t afraid to tackle race, or class, or gender, sexuality, ability, or aging with an ever-present grace and care. I would be hard pressed to find an expectation of mine that they haven’t not only reached, but passed with flying colors.

My only complaint is that I have to wait another year to spend the weekend with the Alvarezes again. That’s truly unfair.

So now, the fun part: In the interest of highlighting One Day at a Time’s intergenerational, Latina feminism, and their emphasis on the relationship between Latina mothers and daughters, I interviewed my own Mamí about her thoughts and feelings towards season two! It’s more spoiler heavy than this review, but if I can be a wee bit biased for a second — my mom is so wonderful. And she was so generous with her time to do this. You should definitely check it out on the next page!


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Carmen is a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but has left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, MI, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow at night. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 79 articles for us.

37 Comments

    • I cried at least four times watching Season 2, and I binged it in one night/morning. There were things that hit me that I didn’t expect to hit me as hard as they did, that just sort of shattered me (the first episode). Then there were the things that as soon as they came up, I knew I was done in (Elena’s storyline with her father, Penelope’s depression). As soon as I watched the episode that focused on Penelope’s struggle with depression, I got in touch with about four friends with depression (many that I met through treatment) and told them, “Someone handled this accurately and responsibly and made me feel seen. And might make you feel seen. You need to watch this.” That’s how powerfully it affected me. And the things with Elena’s dad…I was a wreck. Because I’m out to most of my family, but not my father, because of his anticipating cataclysmic reaction. So it’s really hard for me to watch, but beautiful to see Elena’s growth and strength in the face of it.

  1. This was so lovely. I can’t recall who once commented about how much joy comes through in your writing, but I agree, and even when you’re talking about difficult material like you did in places in this piece, it’s still there.

    Also, you’re not alone in your ugly-cry moments! The scene with Elena confronting her dad had me jamming tissues to my face nonstop, and Penelope’s inability to get out of bed was way too real.

  2. I am glad I am not the only one who ugly cried at multiple points through this season. This comment is going to be super spoilery, by the way!

    There were a few things that stood out to me: the fact that even though the pronouns thing was initially a joke (and even though I appreciated the representation and trusted the show, I was still worried where they were going to go when they made it clear characters didn’t ‘get’ the pronouns) but then after that everyone ALWAYS used the right pronouns all the time. It was a joke, but once the joke was over, it was normal and fine. That was amazing. Also, seeing multiple nonbinary characters on the screen at the same time???? i’ve never seen that. I was a bit ehhh about Syd being referred to as Elena’s girlfriend, but if they’re okay with that, that’s cool.

    Secondly, even though the coming out was a huge part of s1 (and played a role in s2) it was great how NORMAL Elena’s romantic issues were. All of her awkwardness was unrelated to being gay! The problem with homecoming wasn’t anything to do with being gay! Her family gave her advice the same way they gave everyone else advice! All the relationships in the show were treated the same! This shouldn’t be revolutionary but OH MY GOD (I know Black Lightning is also doing this well atm).

    And god, the depression episode. It was heartbreaking and it was everything and I loved that it showed the diversity of depression symptoms, too. It’s not just feeling a bit sad, it can be lashing out, it can be staying in bed, it can be feeling life isn’t worth living. I ugly cried. So much.

    I am recommending One Day at a Time to EVERYONE I KNOW because it’s amazing and it makes me laugh so hard and cry so hard and it deals with so many issues without being cheesy about it and it’s so so real.

    • I wish Syd had the chance to talk a little more about their gender. Not that it needs to be explained but given it’s just the pronouns while still being considered a girlfriend and still calling themselves gay, it feels like the show is going halfway with a gimmick about pronouns without their audience having to really understand that Syd is not a girl.

  3. Thank you so much for this and for sharing this interview with your Mamí.

    I have absolutely loved every minute of season 2 and just love this show so much. I think I saw a tweet it was definitely renenwed for season 3?

    Thank you again, Carmen, this has been the perfect essay and interview to continue to help me think about all that this show brings and the many important topics it covers

  4. This is so great I’m so happy this exists you and your mom aRE THE BEST I LOVE THIS SO MUCH

    “But… I guess I wanted to take their bravery as a moment to be brave myself,” CARMEN I LOVE YOU SO MUCH and I want to do this too ahh I have a lot of feelings about this but most of them are just you’re so fantastic and I love you a lot

  5. This was incredible, thank you so much!

    I really want my mom to watch this, cause I feel like we could have some really cool conversations… i feel like if I ever decide to come out as gender queer the pronoun things in the episode might help! I’m brazilian, so I’m not sure how the they pronoun would be translated, but it’s a starting point!

  6. I really loved this season as it did so many things right. It was great to see queer/lesbian character in a relationship and happy. The last episode really had my heart, as Lydia is such a great character, and Rita does a great job bringing it to life. However, I do wish they were a scene where Elena asks Syd if they want to be called datefriend or girlfriend, and mention that non-binary/agender/genderqueer people come in all forms and not all are afab(something I’ve noticed is more common in media atm).

    On a side note I was told recently one of the writers on the show is a queer gal, so maybe AS can interview her about the show?

  7. So, first: I loved the conversation between you and your Mamí…and the perfect personal touch to add to this great review.

    I made it through eight whole episodes of One Day at a Time without crying and that felt like a big accomplishment but, boy, when the tears started flowing, they just kept right on coming. First, Elena confronting her dad* then Penelope grappling with her PTSD, followed by Lydia getting her citizenship (I’m a sucker for a naturalization story) and then having her health issues. It was all so incredible.

    (Also, shout out to Kimberly McCullough for directing the hilarious “Storage Wars” episode. I feel like she and I have grown up together (I watched her grow up on GH) and seeing her get another shot at directing (she’d done a few PLL episodes) is so great.)

    I loved hearing how you and your mother related to the storylines, @c-p; I know how much that representation can mean and I’m so glad that today’s Latinx teens have Elena Alvarez to emulate. One thing I continue to stress when we look at shows like this and Fresh Off the Boat is that the specificity really helps breed commonality. I may not see myself but I still see my experiences and my family’s experiences…it’s not me but it’s still familiar.

    I love this show.

    (*Victor looks like Dani from the Argentinian telenovela, Las Estrellas, which makes me hate him all the more.)

  8. I’ve been checking Autostraddle every day since I watched all of season 2 last weekend just to see a review of this show!!! My heart is swelling with joy because the addition of your conversation with your Mamí was so special that it too made me cry like I did in pretty much every single episode. Thanks so much to both of you for sharing!

    I read in another review that Justina Machado did the final monologue from the season finale in a single, uninterrupted take. And the depression episode was one of the best things I’ve seen on TV, period. GIVE THIS WOMAN EVERY DAMN AWARD.

    Perhaps an odd thing to focus on here, but one of the things that I really loved about season 2 was how they developed Alex’s character. I think it’s important to show a teenage boy being a quintessential teenage boy while remaining sensitive, emotionally astute/articulate, and committed to the relationships he’s built with women in his life. I’ve never really seen a healthy iteration of adolescent masculinity displayed on television, and I was shocked this season by how much it moved me. I cried A LOT in pretty much every episode (I’m a Cancer so I cry a lot always, but it was intense this season even for me), but Alex making sure to paint Abuelita’s nails in the finale completely obliterated my feelings. That, coupled with the fact that Alex stood up to their dad about how he handled Elena’s coming out, made me yearn in such a visceral way for more shows to just…let adolescent boys be sweet.

    Can’t wait until season 3!

    • I’ve been having similar thoughts about Alex and I’m so grateful you articulated them so well! He’s really such a gem and I cried so hard when we learn he stood up for Elena to his dad. He’s got a lot on his plate and he’s realistically not perfect and he’s sweet and just all of the things you said. I’m so grateful they spent the time on developing him in this way this season

  9. This was really beautiful, Carmen! I cried a few times throughout this post! I love loved the conversation with your mom. <3 <3

    I’m so glad ODAAT talked about intra Latinx racism which I didn’t think was possible in this format but the show continues to surprise me in its writing and depth of discussing complicated topics while also being entertaining. I loved how they did that right out of the gate in the first episode! I was like YESSS they didn’t let this go and addressed it right here and now.

    I really enjoyed watching Elena and Syd and their nerdiness and how they’re just two dorky kids in love! I ugly cried the most in the episode where Elena confronts her dad.

    ALSO JUSTINA MACHADO DESERVES ALL THE FUCKING AWARDS SHE’S AN AMAZING ACTRESS AND I WANT TO BE HER FRIEND

  10. I only just finished the season, but I knew when I finished I had to come back here and read your review, and of course, it was totally worth the wait! The interview with your mom was awesome! My mom hasn’t watched ODAAT, but she and I have had similar conversations after watching OITNB or Grey’s Anatomy together, and I really love that shows aimed not just at people my age, but people my mom’s age too are addressing issues like these.

    Let me be another to say that the depression episode WRECKED me. It definitely made me think about a lot of things, about my own biases, and how they might be affecting me or holding me back from really getting the help I need. I know that’s an episode I’m going to be coming back to.

    The other part of the season that really got me was Elena’s speech to Lydia in the final episode. Even more so than confronting her father about how he handled her coming out, seeing her grapple with how she’d treated her Abuelita, how she’s underestimated her, that was really powerful for me. I was ugly crying as bad as Wally in that scene.

    Thanks for the wonderful review/interview!

  11. I loved this season of ODAAT! Just loved it. I laughed out loud, I cried. I cared about all the characters. I am watching it with my just turned 9yo and she laughs maybe more than the audience/laugh track and she gets it. It’s so good.

    This interview was great, thank you for sharing.

  12. I just finished season 1 and cannot wait to dive into season 2, but I need a minute to catch my breath. Figured this was the best place to comment since it’s the most recent article on the show!

    I don’t think an episode of television has ever made me cry as hard as the quinceañera episode at the end of season 1. Her father disappearing and leaving her alone on the dance floor just absolutely gutted me. I’m not really a person who cries but I literally couldn’t breathe waiting for everyone to realize that he wasn’t coming. My stomach still hurts.

    I’m so grateful for this show, and for everyone who kept telling me I had to watch it. I’m not Latinx, and I didn’t come out until much later in life, but I’m still so grateful for the love and support that Elena receives from her friends and most of her family. Everything about this show is so clever and funny and brilliant, but watching Elena’s journey is the story I wish I’d been able to see growing up.

    Can’t wait for season 2!

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