Vulture Festival: Sunday Dinner With the “One Day at a Time” Family

The second the clip began I started to tear up.

“I really like him, but I don’t think I like him like that,” Elena Alvarez confesses to her mom, Penelope. Elena is trying to be subtle, Penelope’s cluelessness only deepening. She finally states: “When I think about love, I see myself someday loving a woman.”

Feeling embarrassed by my own emotions, I tried to blink them away only to notice that actress Isabella Gomez, who plays Elena, was also tearing up. So was Justina Machado who plays Penelope. And while we were tearing up, One Day at a Time co-creator Mike Royce was fully crying. I remembered that this storyline was based in part on his daughter’s coming out.

Any gathering of a show’s cast, producers, and fans, would be celebratory, but Vulture Festival’s Sunday Dinner with the One Day at a Time Family felt as special as the show itself. Everyone at the table, including Rita Moreno, kept trying to pass off the success of the series to someone else, less as an act of humility, and more so they’d feel less self-conscious praising it themselves.

The excited energy shared between those on stage and those in the crowd was only heightened by the fact that earlier this year the show’s future seemed uncertain. Canceled by Netflix, it seemed like the end of One Day at a Time, no matter its quality, no matter its importance, no matter its low production costs. After an adamant campaign by fans and crew, it was announced in June that the show would be rescued by Pop TV.

Vulture writer Maria Elena Fernandez asked about the shift to Pop and how the writers were adjusting to the shorter episodes. Rita Moreno interjected, “Excuse me. What are you talking about?”

“Don’t worry. You’re still going to get a lot to work with,” co-creator Gloria Calderón Kellett joked back.

Calderón Kellet expressed excitement about the shift of becoming week-to-week. This will allow the show to be even more topical than its already been and allow more extended engagement with fans. Instead of us all watching a season within 24 hours we’ll get to live with the Alvarezes for months.

Fernandez asked Norman Lear where the initial idea came from to reboot One Day at a Time with a Latinx family. “I was broke,” he cracked. Rita Moreno shot back, “You’re full of shit, Norman.” Without missing a beat he replied, “I have to hear that from the woman who’s carrying my child.” Cue audience laughter.

It really did feel like watching a family, if, ya know, your always funny, sometimes inappropriate, grandparents happened to be Norman Lear and Rita Moreno.

After one of the clips, Royce said, “I want to hear from Justina how the fuck she’s so good at acting.” Moreno furrowed her brow. “Wait a minute there were three of us on that screen!” Machado smirked and turned to her on-screen mother. “Was there really though?” Moreno threw up her arms. “And that’s how it really is. They are bitches!” Gomez was ready with the button: “We learned it from the best.”

Later, after a clip of Elena fighting with her brother Alex, Fernandez mentioned to Gomez and Marcel Ruiz who plays Alex that it’s one of the few times they fight–“On-screen,” Ruiz said with a grin. “What did you tap into?” Fernandez continued. Gomez didn’t miss a beat. “Off-screen,” she grinned right back.

It was as if the cast’s casual banter was written by the show’s writing staff.

But amidst all the laughter there was still plenty of time to discuss the show’s more serious topics. Both creators discussed the importance of representation. Calderón Kellett explained that if it weren’t for Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy she wonders if her Cuban parents would have found a life in America. Royce said that his daughter came out to him after writing her college essay about finally seeing herself on TV in The Legend of Korra.

Calderón Kellett also shared how personal Penelope’s depression storyline was to her. The late night recordings that Penelope makes were based almost verbatim on recordings she herself had made.

Her own parents struggled to help her with depression and she wanted to tell a story that normalized and educated. “To be able to tell this story with Justina saying those words was one of the most meaningful experiences of my career and I’m so blessed that she did it with such beauty.”

Praise for Justina Machado was rightly endless. “Nobody listens like she does,” Moreno said. “I have such admiration for her talent.”

“The process I do with any scene with Justina is how do I not cry,” Todd Grinnell, who plays their neighbor Schneider, said.

“It’s a comedy, people. I swear!” Justina responded.

But there was no doubt about that. Even when discussion turned serious they always gave us a reason to laugh, just like on the show.

My favorite anecdote of the night may have been what Moreno shared about Elena’s coming out. When Gomez found out that her character was going to be gay, she excitedly approached Moreno and exclaimed, “I’m going to be gay!” Moreno just looked at her, with her perfect comic stare, and replied, “Well, that’s nice.”

It was obvious, not just from all our tears, how impactful Elena’s coming out story remains. Even Norman Lear felt moved to discuss it after the clip. “I’m probably the oldest person in this room. Anyone older than 97? So I may have seen a little bit more about this thing called life,” he began. “I was so touched. I think that is such fabulous writing and performances. I know I watch six minutes of that and it’s added time to my life because I’ve taken that much pleasure from it… I feel such gratitude for being able to see that scene and take that message and live that life. Thank you.”

Same, Norman. Same.


One Day at a Time will premiere its fourth season on Pop TV in March.

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is currently working on a short film about Gordo from Lizzie McGuire’s transition (it’s canon) and a million other projects. She also runs social media for I Heart Female Directors. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 62 articles for us.

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