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Adams' Analysis - One Day at a Time Deserves A Third Season

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The multi-camera setup on television has origins dating back to the early 20th century, going back to The Queen’s Messenger in 1928. Two decades later and it began being used for comedy, with The Silver Theatre, The Amos ‘n Andy Show, and I Love Lucy three of the earliest productions to use the technique at the very beginning of the 1950s. I Love Lucy was even voted the best television series of all time in 2012, making clear just how significant a series it was.

It should surprise no one that all three of these aired on CBS. Or, rather, it should surprise no one that in 2018 — 67 years on from I Love Lucy first hitting the airwaves — the network continues to churn out multi-cam comedies, having been among the first to bring them to viewers. Other networks do it too, of course, and some of the best-loved sitcoms (Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends) have all been multi-cams. Attitudes have changed, however; often we are no longer satiated by the format once revolutionary, and yearn for something more inventive.

Back in January 2017, when Netflix released the first season of One Day at a Time, any eye rolls accompanied by sighs of exhaustion would have been understandable. Not only was it yet another series to join the 3000-page list of television airing per year, but it was a multi-cam — a multi-cam remake of a CBS sitcom from 40 years ago. Remakes, in general, don’t exactly inspire thrill.

One Day at a Time transcended all of that. It was delightful, an unexpected treat that made hours breeze past. It had heart, and performances strong enough to bring that heart to the surface. It got exponentially better in season two, doubling down on every successful aspect of season one. It is yet to be renewed by Netflix.

Streaming networks make it difficult for those outside of the inner-most circles to gauge the outlook for our favourite series. With no ratings data to speak of (*), no one knows how successful things are — say what you will about the Nielsen system, but at least it provides actual data from which we can make educated guesses.

(*) To Netflix’s credit, it does provide subscriber numbers. These do little to suggest the fates of any of its productions, but they are a way of seeing its growth.

So it’s entirely possible that Netflix could be about to renew One Day at a Time. Or it could be prepared to do it in a few weeks. Or it could be about to cancel it.

That last one would be a true shame.

For a start, One Day at a Time goes above and beyond what you’d expect from a typical sitcom. Part of why people criticise multi-cam sitcoms in 2018 is how rarely they address real-world issues; it’s understandable that in front of studio audiences, all these series want to do is make people laugh. Single-camera comedies like Black-ish and Speechless, over on ABC, are more open to pushing the humour aside. But One Day at a Time doesn’t shy away from talking about sensitive material, taking stories straight from the news and viewing them through the eyes of this Cuban-American family, or taking on problems relatable to anyone and everyone. Season one was loosely threaded by the idea of a coming out story, but season two tackled a whole host of issues: racism, gun violence, PTSD and depression, citizenship — to name but a few.

This is the sort of television we need, particularly in an age where one would hope such issues wouldn’t be as divisive as they actually are. Suggestions that addressing any politics works against the series would be na├»ve; to take the belief that politics and television, especially comedy, shouldn’t mix is akin to saying that humans and politics shouldn’t mix. Laughing is a crucial part of processing and dealing with such issues.

While taking real-life matters seriously, the series doesn’t lose sight of its ultimate aim: making people laugh. To preach to the converted for a moment, it’s interesting to rewatch the Lydia sequence of the second season finale — no spoilers for those yet to jump on the bandwagon — and see how structured it actually is. Each line or two alternates between being a joke and being tear-inducing in its sincerity. This is a constant theme when it hits on heavier subjects, and it prevents the series from wallowing in misery for too long. The emotional beats are hit and maintained, but always with enough moments to tickle viewers.

And it’s surprisingly important to note that the series is very funny. Season one took its time to get going, and probably two-thirds of the jokes landed overall; by the second season, that was up to around nine out of ten. The laugh count rises at a similar rate of a rabbit stomping its foot, something that comedies can often struggle to achieve. This writing team is sharp and has a firm understanding of exactly what works.

Perhaps most special, though, are the performances. Endlessly waxing lyrical about Rita Moreno, fun as it would be, seems redundant because what exactly is there to say about an EGOT winner and master actress that hasn’t already been said? She practically glows on the screen; if the production team spontaneously decided to switch Lydia’s (Moreno) bed for a gold-plated throne and have her sit on it for the entirety of an episode, it would look right. It’s for good reason that her literal curtain-opening entrance in the series’ first episode and season two’s second episode elicited wild cheers from the studio audience.

But away from her, this cast is outstanding. Justina Machado often steals the show from Moreno, an impressive feat of acting that highlights just how talented she is. Machado embodies Penelope beautifully, carrying herself with the weight of her past and present problems and using that to form the basis of any dramatic or comedic moment — usually a sarcastic quip. No one is better at conveying the core humanity of the series, and while it may be an ensemble cast, it’s fair to say she truly embraces being the lead.

Children can prove to be a minefield in scripted entertainment; often, the writing is lazy and the performances so clearly suffering from inexperience. Not here. Isabella Gomez was a revelation in the first season, handling Elena’s coming out story with such nuance that hearing she had two previous acting credits probably requires a spit-take. It was ambitious to take on and Gomez was more than up to the challenge. Gomez has been acting since she was five but never saw herself leaving dramatic work. To be fair to her, a lot of this performance is dramatic, and she nails it. Even Marcel Ruiz, just 14-years-old, is impressive; he’s given far less dramatic material than his co-stars, but looks wise beyond his years, transferring that to a character more than capable of carrying a scene. Todd Grinnell and Stephen Tobolowsky, who make up the rest of the main cast, also came into their own far more during season two, much to the series’ benefit.

One Day at a Time was among the best shows in 2017, and it only improved in its January 2018 second season. Forget the aforementioned economics of television for a moment, because not renewing this show would be a creative disaster, a stain on the record of Netflix’s efforts to bring high-quality programming to the world. It is a series that is easy to watch and easier still to love, one that makes us think without becoming a mental exercise, one that renews faith — just for a brief, flickering moment — in the notion of a multi-cam comedy in 2018. It is a series that everyone should watch.

And, most importantly, it is a series that Netflix should renew.

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