The 2017 version of Norman Lear’s original series had been well-received by audiences and critics from The New York Times, to The Washington Post, to the Los Angeles Times, but until this week, the show’s future was in limbo. That led Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce, who developed the show along with Lear, to appeal to viewers for support.
Given everything going on in the country today, the fate of a 30-minute sitcom might not seem like a big deal. But “One Day at a Time” is important precisely because of everything going on in the country today. The show offers a positive depiction of a Latino family at a time when Latinos are still barely visible in the entertainment industry. It offers a realistic portrayal of Latinos, who are typically shown in film and TV as gang members or servants, or on the news as undocumented immigrants. In short, this is the TV show America needs right now.
The Alvarez family of 'One Day at a Time' is both uniquely Latino and entirely American.
The original ”One Day at a Time” (1975) created by Lear featured a divorced single mother (Bonnie Franklin) raising two daughters on her own in Indianapolis. The show was groundbreaking for its time, tackling issues like teen suicide, premarital sex and the struggles of working women. It may seem quaint now, but one running plot line was Franklin’s character insisting on being addressed as “Ms.”
The new ”One Day at a Time” has been updated to feature the Cuban-American Alvarez family in Los Angeles. Like the original, the lead is a single mom (Justina Machado), the family is working class, and the goofy “Schneider” character is reprised too. This incarnation of the show continues to take on relevant issues, like sexual identity, immigration, gun control and bullying. And it does so, as Calderón Kellett explained to Vanity Fair, without ever specifically mentioning Donald Trump.
What makes ”One Day at a Time” so extraordinary is that it presents the Alvarez family as both uniquely Latino and entirely American. While Latino viewers can relate to cultural references (like the use of Vicks VapoRub as a cure-all for everything that ails you) and Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout, the show is accessible to everyone. “One Day at a Time” is not a show about a Latino family; it is a show about a family that happens to be Latino.
The new ”One Day at a Time” is the rare show where Latinos are depicted as fully dimensional people. There are no stereotypes; no one is in a gang, running drugs or speaking with a contrived accent. The Alvarez family is not in crisis; they are simply living their lives. At its heart, it is about the universal experience of family ties — and it is hugely entertaining.
Considering our current political climate, this kind of representation matters. The president has repeatedly insulted Latinos, and his attorney general is fond of conflating undocumented immigrants with violent crime. Though it may only be a TV show, “One Day at a Time” plays a role in counteracting such negative imagery.
That’s why an array of advocacy groups, led by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), wrote an open letter to Netflix asking the streaming network to renew the show. The NMHC called the show “a guiding light — the true north in and for an industry grappling with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.”
This is not hyperbole. In fact, “One Day at a Time” is the rare show where Latinos are depicted at all. A February study by the University of California Los Angeles showed that Latinos are underrepresented in all areas of the entertainment industry. While Latinos are 18 percent of the U.S. population, they account for just 2.7 percent of all top movie roles in 2016, and around 5 to 6 percent of roles on television. While it is highly unusual for any show to have multiple Latino leads, “One Day at a Time” succeeds in another representation benchmark: Calderón Kellett has noted on Twitter that her show is diverse both in front of and behind the camera.
Hollywood is still far from where it should be – but programs like 'One Day At A Time' certainly show us where we are headed.
Netflix deserves praise for bringing “One Day at a Time” back. More viewers need a chance to see that Latinx families are, in many ways, just like other American families. And like everyone else, Latinos want to see the joys and struggles of our lives depicted on-screen.
Broadly speaking, we may be on the verge of a new golden age of television. In the past, programs like ”The George Lopez Show,” and the original ”Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and ”Will & Grace” were notable because they allowed people of color and other minorities visibility. Now, we are in an era where shows can explore the nuances of being African-American (”Black-ish”), Millennial (”Grown-ish”), LGBTQ (the new ”Queer Eye”), and Latinx in the 21st century. Hispanic viewers can also look forward to a ”Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff centering on a Latina firefighter, and the upcoming Starz series ”Vida,” about two Mexican-American sisters.
These shows reflect an industry that is inching closer towards a more authentic depiction of all Americans. in terms of inclusion, Hollywood is still far from where it should be — but programs like ”One Day at a Time” certainly show us where we are headed.
Raul Reyes is an attorney, NBCNews.com contributor and CNN Opinion columnist.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this column misstated the first name of Justina Machado as Juliana.