Cuban-Americans Take Spotlight In Netflix Reboot Of 'One Day At A Time'

Jan 6, 2017
Originally published on January 6, 2017 5:16 pm
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Another classic TV show has been retooled for Netflix. Today the streaming channel released "One Day At A Time", a new version of the sitcom from the '70s and '80s. It's focused on a Cuban-American family, and as NPR TV critic Eric Deggans tells us, the show highlights how far TV still has to go in authentically depicting Latino lives.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Penelope is a former Army nurse back from tours in Afghanistan, raising her two kids in an apartment with her mother. She's separated from their father, a former soldier now working in private security overseas. And when the nightmares come, recalling Penelope's life in a war zone, her mother, played with over-the-top perfection by Rita Moreno, is there to console her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ONE DAY AT A TIME")

RITA MORENO: (As Lydia) Oh no. Oh no, no, no. You were just having a nightmare. You are not at war. Everything is OK.

JUSTINA MACHADO: (As Penelope) OK, except I'm 38 years old sleeping with my mom.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: This is the new face of Netflix's "One Day At A Time", featuring three generations of Latinas living under one roof and a theme song sung by Gloria Estefan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE DAY AT A TIME")

GLORIA ESTEFAN: (Singing) This is it. This is life, the one you get, so go and have a ball. This is it.

DEGGANS: The original "One Day At A Time" was the first TV sitcom starring a divorced single mother. Netflix's version centers on Hispanic characters, who are seriously under-represented on television. The new show explores issues like religion and sexism through three very different perspectives.

Here, the apartment building superintendent, also named Schneider like in the original show, interrupts Penelope's daughter Elena as she tries explaining modern sexism to her mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ONE DAY AT A TIME")

ISABELLA GOMEZ: (As Elena) I'm not talking about old people sexism. It's much more subtle now. Men assert their power through micro-aggressions and mansplaining.

MACHADO: (As Penelope) Oh, mansplaining. Is that like man-scaping?

(LAUGHTER)

GOMEZ: (As Elena) No. Mansplaining is when...

TODD GRINNELL: (As Schneider) It's when a man explains something to a woman...

(LAUGHTER)

GRINNELL: ...That she already knows, but he acts like he's teaching her. Does that make sense?

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Legendary TV producer Norman Lear who developed the original series also serves as an executive producer on the new version. In an interview with NPR last year, he said the Netflix show actually doesn't have much in common with the classic series.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NORMAN LEAR: What we're doing with "One Day At A Time" here - it doesn't even seem but for the title to be based on it because this is three generations. It was only two generations on the original. And we're not looking at the old scripts. This is all fresh stuff. And as I said, one of the huge differences is we're dealing with veterans.

DEGGANS: But even though it touches on hot-button social issues the way classic Norman Lear sitcoms always have, Netflix's "One Day At A Time" too often falls short at its main mission - to be funny. The broadly-acted, laugh-track-filled sitcom-style that seemed bold in the 1970s feels a bit dated now, and the characters wear their Cuban culture on their sleeve in ways that can deal heavy-handed and close to stereotypes.

These days, TV seems to treat Latino characters and stories the way black characters were handled in the 1970s and 1980s - featured well on a few specific television shows but largely under-represented and stereotyped elsewhere. Netflix's "One Day At A Time" is a small step towards rectifying that situation, especially when Moreno cuts loose in dramatic moments, explaining to Penelope why she believes in God.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ONE DAY AT A TIME")

MORENO: (As Lydia) When you were deployed, I went to church every day. And I prayed that he would keep you safe, and he did. So don't you tell me about God.

DEGGANS: If "One Day At A Time" can elevate its comedy to match the more serious moments, it just might become the kind of groundbreaking television show the original was. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE KNUX SONG, "CAPPUCCINO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.