I really like Netflix original series.
Sense8, Fuller House, the multiple Marvel’s Defenders shows, Marco Polo, The Crown– I could go on but you get the picture. I like these shows because they go places shows on TV don’t typically go, whether that means being honest about some of the things women experience (such as the way the line “smile” was used in Jessica Jones) or having complicated plots that wouldn’t be fully fleshed out in a usual television show’s allotted 45 minutes (looking at you, Sense8).
That being said, there is one Netflix show that stood out to me as the most honest, entertaining, and true-to-life.
Netflix’s One Day at a Time is based on the sitcom of the same name that aired in the 1970s and 80s. However, the Netflix update has added a whole lot more diversity and current event issues to the show (spoilers ahead).
One Day at a Time follows the lives of Cuban single-mother nurse and ex-military medic Penelope Alvarez, her mother Lydia, and two children Elena and Alex. While the show currently only has thirteen episodes, within the first season they deal with issues of PTSD, alcoholism, sexism in the workplace, divorce, religion, coming-out, sex, immigration, generational divides, and the lack of support many military veterans receive when returning home. Despite these all being pretty hot-button topics, the show never feels pushy and never uses any of those issues in ways that are disrespectful or purely as the butt of a joke.
Along with the fantastic amount of issues dealt with, the characters are amazing. Penelope is a strong woman who not only cares emotionally for her family but is their sole provider AND is allowed to show her emotion without ever being viewed as less of a strong person as a result of it. She has PTSD and physical issues after being deployed in Afghanistan and is shown dealing with those problems and working to get through them. In one episode she attends a women veterans’ support group and in another she is shown having to deal with the apathy and bureaucracy of a veteran affairs department. She is also shown struggling with the beginnings of her divorce from her husband, who refuses to seek help for his own combat-related PTSD. Despite everything against her, she manages to stay upbeat and is the life of the family.
Elena, her daughter, is a fourteen year old feminist and social justice warrior. She is outspoken and unwilling to compromise herself or her beliefs. She is one of my favorite characters on the show, mostly due to how easily I was able to relate to her character arc. Part way through the season she begins questioning her sexuality, and by the end of the season she has come out as a lesbian. I have never seen a show or movie show a coming-out story that felt as real and similar to my own experience as Elena’s on One Day at a Time. The episode in which Elena comes out to Penelope had me in tears from how closely it resembled the same conversation I had with my own mother. It was almost as if the writers of the show had been in the room with my mom and I, taking notes on everything from words to facial expressions.
Lydia, Penelope’s mother, is a deeply religious woman who immigrated from Cuba when she was in her mid-teens. She is also one of my favorite characters in the show due to her dramatic flair and how she manages to hold onto her beliefs and culture while still adjusting to the world around her. Her love for her family is incredibly obvious in every episode, particularly the episodes following Elena’s coming out. Despite the usual expectations of how religious people will act after having someone come out as not straight to them, Lydia was accepting of Elena, even mentioning Pope Francis’ 2013 statement that he could not judge those who loved others of the same sex and using it as a reason why she could not judge. She also supports Elena in expressing herself in whatever way makes her most comfortable, going so far as to make a suit for Elena to wear at her Quinceañera rather than the traditional dress.
Alex, Penelope’s son, is a surprisingly sweet pre-teen boy. In the first season his main issue is peer pressure from his friends, something that is relatable no matter how many times it is used as a plot device in sitcoms. He also served as wonderful support for his family members. He was the first person to find out Elena was a lesbian and he comforted his mom after a failed first attempt at dating again after her divorce. While he doesn’t have much of a story arc of his own in the first season, I am curious to see how his character will develop
Another main character is the Alvarez’s landlord, Schneider. I wasn’t sure about his character at first, but over the season he grew on me. While he is a white, straight male who owns the apartment building, he does try to be educated on issues of discrimination, feminism, and racism and over the course of the season checks himself and the privilege he was exhibiting multiple times. It was refreshing to see that type of character working to be better, especially when considering how rare it is to see someone working to check their privilege in media, let alone the real world.
One Day at a Time left me feeling uplifted and happy as the credits rolled on the last episode of the season. No, none of the characters were guaranteed to have perfect lives, but they all felt like they were having real lives with real issues that we all have experienced. I felt validated in my experiences and like someone understood some of the things I have been through or seen my friends go through.
Netflix shows have always been enjoyable to me, but they just raised the bar a lot higher with One Day at a Time. I can’t wait to see what they come out with next!