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

Carmen: When I pitched this idea, I told my editors that one of my favorite parts about watching One Day at a Time’s first season was watching it with you. I felt like, as a queer Latina who was a teen feminist, who went to Catholic school, who was raised by my Latina single mother in a Caribbean Latinx household — we’re Puerto Rican, not Cuban — there was a lot of connection. And I felt like watching it with you in particular, it gave us insights about each other.

So, I wanted to have a conversation with you about season two. What did you think about this season?

Mamí: I liked season two! I like how they’re advancing the characters this year. I particularly loved how they expanded the grandmother character and Rita Moreno’s work.

Carmen: For people who don’t know, you are a really big Rita Moreno Fan.

Mamí: Yes! I have loved Rita Moreno since I first saw her in West Side Story when I was a child.

Carmen: We don’t have to tell everyone how old you are, but that was a long time ago.

Mamí: Haha! Well, you know, I was a girl when for the first time on the big screen I saw this larger than life, feisty, Puerto Rican woman who was patterned along the same lines as the women I knew in my life. I had never seen that before, in cinema. So, yes, I fell instantly in love with her. I fell in love with her strength, her pride at being Puerto Rican.

Carmen: We were watching an episode this season and I heard you — I don’t know what face Rita Moreno made — but I watched you be taken aback and say, “My god she looks like my mother.” That really touched me, because ‘Bueli (abuela, my grandmother) died when I was a young girl. And I always saw a bit of ‘Bueli in Rita Moreno as well. So I think, just having that physical recognition…

Mamí: Oh yeah, physically, especially as my mom got older, she looked a lot like Rita Moreno’s character on the show. My mother didn’t have an accent, but she still had that deep passionate pride for the island — the language, the food, everything. We did not grow up in a Westernized or Americanized household. For us, it was a big deal to have spaghetti or hot dogs — because my dad ate rice and beans every day.

Carmen: Oh yes, every day! Every day!

Mamí: In the last episode, when Penelope tells the story of her mother not being there when she left to go the army [at 18 years old]— I have a similar story of my mother not being there when I left to go to college.

It was very painful for me to watch that, because it was so raw, so real… so viscerally real. I lived it. I remember that whole trip, and my father taking me, on a train, because he didn’t drive. Eight, ten hours. He was extremely supportive, he always had been. My mother also loved me, so much. But the thing that struck me was, at that moment, at that time in my life, I made a decision to not to ever be that kind of mom. I kept telling myself, “I will never do that… No matter what. If I have children, no matter where they decide to go, or what they decide to do, I will support them.”

Because here it is, 45 years later. And it still hurts.

Yeah, there are… there are… a lot of truths going on in this little show. A lot of truths.

Carmen: I think one of the ways that Justina Machado’s Penelope reminds me of you, is the way that she loves her kids.

We’ve talked about before how deeply protective and loving she is of them. But in particular, watching Elena and her interact remind me a lot of me and you when I was a teenager. And you know, I wasn’t a teenager in Donald Trump’s America, but I was a teenager in George W. Bush’s America, and I remember distinctly almost getting suspended from school for protesting the Iraq War. Seeing Elena in her Catholic uniform, with her protest signs — it makes my heart just leap because I remember that. A lot of Elena’s role in her family reminds my role in our family. Elena is nerdy, and she cares about politics, and she can be an outlier sometimes. But, they love her anyway.

Mamí: You always had that— you passion, your commitment to change, to have an impact. You saw things and you felt things very deeply, and you wanted them to be different. I think you are very much like Elena in other ways, too. You talk about her nerdiness, her passion for her books, for learning. And how different that makes her from everyone in her family. But at the same time her family, particularly her mother, recognizing that’s what “makes her special.”

With you… it was evident you were different, but we loved you. I knew that the majority of our family would simply accept you as you presented yourself. The way I dealt with it, was to have candid conversations with you about how you were different.

We would have those conversations, even when you were a child — a young teen — navigating very difficult waters. And I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that you would find a way through it that would allow you to be whole. So I think we did a good job, getting through “How do I remain myself, in a space where there’s a lot of pressure to conform.”

Carmen and Mamí

Carmen: And I think that’s what why One Day at a Time reminds me of our relationship!

But also, I guess when I was a teenager, I didn’t think a lot about how tiring it must be to be a single mom. So, I think the show has been very eye-opening about that for me. And I think that’s where I see you and Penelope together. Because you both just… you know, you’re making it work. You got out there everyday, and you made it work. And you made sure your kid felt loved. And you made sure your kid felt protected.

Mamí: Yeah, [when you’re a single mom] you’re responsible… for everything. You know? The challenge of raising a child, and in her case children, as a single mom is daunting. You do have to get up everyday and put on your armor and fight the fight. Because you have no one else to fight the fight for you. You don’t get to stay home, or be sick, or sleep in. That’s just not an option in your life. You get to used to that. For me, I think that made you a more resilient person. And I may be biased, but I think the children of single mothers can grow up to be more self-reliant and well-rounded, because they are forced to be at a much younger age.

Carmen: I think one of the things we were both were moved by, right at the first episode, was the show’s conversation about race. Papito — Alex — he get’s told, “Go Back to Mexico.” And it turns out he’s been called a “Beaner.”

Mamí: Mhhhmm, I think they chanted “Build a Wall.”

Carmen: But I think, one of the things we were struck by, or at least I was, was that at the same time that they are talking about how white people are viewing them, with Alex being talked to as if he’s a threat, with white people seeing their Latinx family as a threat — was the way the show also approached that Elena doesn’t have to deal with that day-to-day overt racism. Because of her white privilege. It felt like you were really invested in that.

Mamí: Oh I loved, absolutely loved that they decided not just to look at externalized racism, but to also look at our own internalized cultural racism. Which is constantly punctuated throughout that episode by Rita Moreno’s line, “But mostly white…”

Carmen: Yes! So, Penelope says “Cubans can be anything.” And then Abuelita says,

Together: “… But mostly white!”

Mamí: And that is a comment that I heard my entire life. Because Latinos from the Caribbean do cut the swath. We can be black or brown or white. We have internalized those same cultural beliefs, the ones that say that the lighter you are the prettier you are, or the more accepted you will be, the better your job opportunities. We still privilege whiteness, even within our own community, at the same time that we are discriminated against by others for not being “white enough.”

Elena makes a comment that she hasn’t experienced any [racial discrimination]. And her family has to tell her, it’s because you look white. And unlike her grandmother, she doesn’t have an accent. So, they finally give her a pet name, Blanquita. Those kind of personal loving nicknames, they reminded me of our own family as well.

Carmen: And I kinda love that they didn’t explain it. There wasn’t a stop to the audience that says, “Blanquita is a diminutive of “Blanco”, which is Spanish for “white.” They just expect that you are going to catch up.

Mamí: And then Elena owns it! She becomes “Blanquita dot com” or whatever, the gamer!

Carmen: Yes! She makes the nickname her handle in the gaming episode! There is a pride. At first she felt a bit separated from her family because of her privilege, but then she finds a way to connect to her Cuban heritage through that. The ways we understand racism and racial privilege internal to the Latinx community — the writers really found a way to talk about it and translate that so beautifully to television. That was really striking for me.

Mamí: Yeah, that was a really complicated conversation. And I thought they handled it so beautifully and insightfully. They shed light in a way that allowed people to understand things, without necessarily being on the defensive.

Carmen: So, flipping this around a bit. There’s a lot about One Day At A Time that we have in common, we have those mother/daughter connections, and our Latinidad, but one of the things that I love about the show is that it is multilayered. So where you and I may connect on certain things, there is also space for learning experiences.

What I’m leading into is the conversation about pronouns. One of the other Autostraddle Staff Members, Valerie, tweeted that One Day At A Time let her have a conversation with her mom about pronouns and that’s why representation matters. I laughed and tweeted, “Me too!” You and I actually stopped the episode to talk about pronouns when it happened. I wondered how that felt for you, to be able to watch it and have a learning experience about LGBT culture and explanations of difference.

Mamí: It’s interesting. I knew there was a conversation about pronouns going on — you know, out there in the world. But, it had not walked in to my house directly. The TV show did that. It brought it front and center. It made me curious, it allowed me to have an educational conversation with you that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. And that doesn’t happen very often in the sitcom world, I think.

Carmen: I agree! I don’t know if I’ll ever really get to see a lot of shows that reminds me so much of our culture —  We’re Puerto Rican, but their inside jokes are often specific to Latino or Caribbean culture — and still allow us to have a conversation about gender and sexuality that we maybe otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I think that’s what makes the show so special.

So, then the last question I had… and this is a bit harder for me, but we haven’t yet talked about what was the most difficult part of the series for me, which was when Penelope was dealing with her depression. I cried throughout that entire episode. I’ve talked in little bits about my depression on Autostraddle, but not in a significant way yet, and I guess one of the things that got to me was watching you watch Rita Moreno’s character navigate how she can best help her daughter.

I was reading, and one of the things that the One Day at a Time writers discussed was their feeling that in Latinx communities, we still don’t talk about depression. I think that’s true — I think that’s true for a lot of people of color. And I know it’s not something that I always feel comfortable talking about. But… I guess I wanted to take their bravery as a moment to be brave myself, and say that’s a part of the show that really connected for me — as a Latina, who’s in my 30s, who struggles with depression. And as the parent of an adult child with depression, you often have often had to help me deal with that. I wondered how that episode felt for you?

Mamí: That’s very hard for me to talk about. It was a really hard episode, for me. Yes, we don’t talk about it as a real, life altering, entity in our community… definitely we don’t talk about it enough. I think that when people do talk about depression or anxiety, it is perceived as weakness. And sometimes I feel like it’s my role to protect you from that.

I connected with the mom… who is just trying to help her child.

That episode gave me a lot to think about. I am still thinking about it. I don’t have any answers. But, it was a very, very good catalyst for me to start thinking about what we need to do as a family to help each other through.

Carmen: Ok, we’ll stop here. I want to thank you for doing this with me. I love you, Mamí!

Mamí: I love you, too.

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, 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. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 652 articles for us.


    • 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. Penelope’s depression was a fantastic episode. Elena as a butch made me laugh. Elena confronting her father made me cry. The episode about racism was great too but the finale left me in a puddle of my own tears on the floor.

    • SERIOUSLY. The number one way to reduce a fan of this show to a puddle is [SPOILER] to put Abuelita in peril. Most of that episode was spent repeating “Don’t you do it, don’t you dare” silently.

      • Spoiler spoiler spoiler
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        When Berto shows up and says he’s here to pick her up I gasped! I was all like “I can’t believe they’re going to do this! This is like Coco all over again”
        But when she said she wasn’t ready yet I whooped so loud I woke up my dog

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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!

  7. 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?

  8. 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.)

  9. 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

  10. I’m reading this at work in tears Carmen. It was so moving and beautiful <3. Thank you for sharing your conversation with your Mamí <3

  11. 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.


  12. Welp, I finished the season and thought I was done crying and then I read your interview with your mom and cried even harder. Thank you so much for this gem of an article.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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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