After three glorious seasons, 39 episodes, and countless cups of Bustelo, One Day At A Time has come to an end. Netflix announced the decision to wrap the Latinx-led reboot, from showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce and executive producer Norman Lear, on Thursday via a Twitter thread full of a surprising amount of hand-wringing from the company that held—holds—the fate of the show in its hands.
Still, it was an unprecedented move from the media company, which has rarely ever offered up such an extensive explanation (four whole tweets!) of its decision-making. What was very familiar about the statement was how little it actually revealed about the process. Despite waxing on about how agonizing it was not to move forward with a fourth season of one of its best-received shows, Netflix’s claim that “simply not enough people watched to justify another season” raises more questions than it answers. The streamer has rarely ever been transparent about viewership data, unless it’s to tout some record-breaking figure.
A couple of weeks after the third season, which features some of the series’ best episodes, Calderón Kellett tweeted that she’d met with Netflix about the future of the sitcom and was told the show needed more viewers. The series writer-director-producer wasn’t given any specific figures, but anyone who’s kept up with the show knows it was always on the bubble. Netflix waited two months after the season-one premiere to announce a pickup; ditto the season-three news. So, in February of this year, fans rallied around the show once more, live-tweeting the latest episodes or recommending it to their followers, and overall doing a better job of marketing the show than the platform itself.
A campaign to save One Day At A Time is currently underway, and has already gotten a boost from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown, and the God Twitter account itself. Obviously, I want to see it succeed, even as my line of work makes me aware of how unlikely that is. Netflix is cutting back on licensing deals (holding onto its Friends notwithstanding), and even if another streamer or network were to step in, Netflix still owns the rights to the first three seasons of the reboot, which would require Calderón Kellett and Royce to start over again at a new home (which the former has already said they’re fully capable of doing). But if ever a show possessed a light that could pierce through such dim prospects, it’s One Day At A Time—resilience is in its DNA, along with compassion, humor, exceptional performances, inclusive storytelling, and an incomparable knack for finales.
The opportunities for Latinx showrunners are severely limited, as are opportunities for Latinx stories as expansive as those told on One Day At A Time. A recent spike in shows with an immigration angle doesn’t come close to covering the diaspora—not that Calderón Kellett, a Cuban-American, ever sought to do that with her show. Centering on a working-class, multigenerational Cuban-American family, One Day At A Time broke ground, but the decision was also just a reflection of Calderón Kellett’s upbringing. The food containers that hold anything but what’s on the label, the clashes over tradition, the overprotectiveness, the lifelong grudges—those elements are all taken from her life, and those of writers like Janine Brito and Dan Hernandez. They, along with Royce and Lear, knew just how singular yet relatable their stories are, and committed to bringing them to viewers around the world (just how many, we may never know). They also operated knowing the limited opportunities for Latinx folks in the industry; they were fully aware of being on borrowed time. But that pressure never manifested in the show beyond its ability to deliver a gratifying resolution to every wonderful season.
Season one introduced the Alvarez family, led by Penelope (Justina Machado, for whom I will never stop campaigning for an Emmy), a nurse, single mother, and Iraq War vet with PTSD. Penelope’s daughter, Elena (Isabella Gomez), is a nerdy, incredibly dedicated activist, who gets a lesson in other previous waves of feminism from her mother and grandmother Lydia (the peerless Rita Moreno) as the season progresses. Her younger brother, Alex (Marcel Ruiz), is clever, prepossessing, and coddled by his grandmother as only the gran varón of the family can be. The Alvarezes make room in their family for their clueless landlord, Schneider (Todd Grinnell), and Penelope’s boss, Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky), while also dealing with xenophobia, sexism in the workplace, and the rest of life’s little pitfalls.
Elena’s quinceañera provides a greater framework for the first season, as well as plenty of tension between the generations—she bristles at the outdated gender conventions involved in the party planning, which Penelope admits she only tolerated growing up and Lydia actively endorses. But seeing all the puffy dresses and trying to find a chambelan de honor brings about a huge revelation for Elena: She’s gay, and must find a way to tell everyone in her family, including her father, Victor (James Martinez). The people who have always been there for her—Penelope, Alex, Schneider, Dr. B., and even Lydia—accept Elena’s queerness as just another part of her, but her father ditches her before their big dance in the season-one finale.
Directed by Pamela Fryman and written by Calderón Kellett and Royce, “Quinces” is big-hearted, tense, and hilarious; it also respects the characters’ journeys so far. Penelope, who was just a tad uncomfortable with Elena’s coming-out earlier in the season, sheds any doubts the moment she sees Victor’s, offering her daughter full-throated support. Alex, Schneider, and Dr. B. all find their own ways to help (party planning, money, and a previously unknown talent for sewing), and the episode culminates in a picture-perfect moment of empathy. The unconditional love that radiates off the found family as they all dance together to Janet Dacal’s cover of “De Niña A Mujer” is a showstopper, and may have even been intended to be a show closer.
Even as ODAAT stayed within the sitcom format, it transcended many of its familiar devices, like the group hug, which becomes so much more than that because of the legwork the show and even the finale had done to that point. Victor’s rejection is crushing but not out of left field—we sensed his doubts and were made aware of his character throughout the season. And while we never question Penelope’s support, Lydia’s transition from despairing of an unmarried lesbian granddaughter to making her the menswear quinces look of her dreams is a delightful surprise. At first, Elena suggests a less conspicuous gesture (wearing Doc Marten boots under a frou-frou dress) to feel more herself, and it’s that hesitation that leads to Lydia’s big gesture. Elena wants to take a small step forward, but Lydia is not one for small steps. Both of these choices are true to the characters while also reflecting progress—de niña a mujer, from old-fashioned to open-minded.
If ODAAT had ended then, it would have felt resolved yet full of untapped potential. The late-hour pickup from Netflix did nothing to quell the spirit of the show, which returned in 2018 with the same grasp of its episodic and serialized storytelling. Season two continued to develop established storylines: the now-out Elena starts to date in earnest, as does Penelope, though the latter’s guilt over expending time and energy on anything other than her family, work, and education leads to a depressive episode in a remarkable half-hour of TV. Schneider ingratiates himself further, as does Dr. B., while Alex must navigate adolescence and white supremacy. Sex, school, politics, gender identity, and mental illness and the ways it’s stigmatized are all woven into the season, which has a few overarching themes, including taking a closer look at immigration and assimilation through Lydia’s story.
Fiercely proud of her roots, Lydia struggles with applying for U.S. citizenship, seeing it as a kind of betrayal to her beloved Cuba even while recognizing the reality and foreign policy that make it necessary (and possible). ODAAT’s diasporic storytelling had mostly centered on the U.S.-born Penelope and her children, but in season two, Calderón Kellett shines a light on Lydia, who has also been straddling two cultures, two countries, this whole time. In the season finale “Not Yet,” Lydia is hospitalized after a stroke, and the family holds vigil, visiting hours be damned. The exceptionally moving episode, from the same trio that brought us “Quinces,” sees everyone take their turn telling Lydia what she’s given them: confidence for Alex; support for Schneider during his alcoholism recovery; a reawakening for Leslie; and greater pride in her Cuban culture for Elena.
Penelope has been the beneficiary and target of the full extent of Lydia’s parenting, which Machado relates in a breathtaking six-minute monologue. It’s their story and the show’s story: the disappointments, the love, the kindness, the high expectations. Penelope is not ready to let go, and neither are we, the viewers, but the script from Calderón Kellett and Royce feels like an incredibly emotional and fond farewell to the Alvarez family. When Lydia, who is being drawn to the light by the spirit of her husband, Beto (Tony Plana), tells him, regretfully, that it is “not yet” time for her to go, though, a door is also left open.
The third season, which debuted last month, delves even deeper into the lives of the family, including the positive and not-so-positive developments that lead to Schneider’s heartbreaking relapse. Everyone, but especially Alex, reckons with toxic masculinity; for Lydia, the high heel is on the other foot, as she chafes at Elena’s overbearingness. Elena, meanwhile, is still dating Syd (Sheridan Pierce), her non-binary “Syd-nificant” other. They take their relationship to the next level in an episode that is tender and honest. Penelope is still studying for her nurse practitioner certification in the midst of raising one teen and preparing the other for college, but in season three, she also has to deal with seeing her ex, Victor, move on with his life with Nicole (who’s played by Calderón Kellett, in what feels like a very meta move).
The fate of the show was probably more unpredictable than ever when “Ghosts,” the season-three turned series finale, was written. The episode ends with a wedding, another TV standby, but Penelope’s recommitment to herself after seeing everything she’s accomplished is unique. After spending much of the back half of the season doubting herself, Penelope then has to watch her doppelgänger Nicole marry her ex before running into her beefy ex Max (Ed Quinn). It’s an emotional look back that’s too optimistic to simply be a eulogy for the show—when Penelope tells the spirit of her father (boy, he gets to leave heaven a lot) that she is choosing herself, it’s also ODAAT telling Netflix and viewers that it is choosing to go out on its own terms. This isn’t maudlin sentiment or resignation from Calderón Kellett and Royce, but rather total understanding and a great love for the characters they created. With such captivating finales, One Day At A Time showed us how to let go; it also, throughout its run, taught us the importance of holding on.