Ever since Netflix began airing original series, it’s positioned itself a rule-breaker that didn’t have to pay attention to TV’s old and outmoded traditions. It commissions shows that other networks are wary of. It’s made eye-popping deals with notable talent. It has secret algorithms that influence which shows get long lives and which don’t. It’s a disruptor all right, for good and for ill.
On paper, “One Day at a Time” represents one of Netflix’s riskier gambits. An earnest multi-cam family sitcom, in this day and age? Wouldn’t critics be primed to be wary of it? Would the public, grown used to the kinds of edgy half-hours all over TV, speed right past this kind of retro program on their way to devour installments of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”?
Things didn’t turn out that way, which is one of the most welcome TV developments of the past few years. When a concept is executed at such a superlative level, thanks to the efforts of the cast and showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, all doubts fade away. The first season of “One Day at a Time” appeared on my end-of-year Best TV list, and its most recent season finale left me in a puddle of well-earned tears.
It’s one of TV’s best shows, without question, and most of my peers appear to agree. In a world in which critics and TV reporters barely have time to keep up with the flood of new shows, many TV writers took time out of their busy schedules to write about “One Day at a Time’s” return — and those same writers would no doubt set the internet aflame if Netflix kicked it to the curb.
“One Day at a Time” also pops up a lot on my social-media feeds, and I realize that that kind of data is anecdotal, but after 20 years of monitoring this kind of thing, you get a feel for which shows have real, excited followings and which don’t. “ODaaT” is in the former camp; its fans — and I count myself in that group — love it with a very clear and palpable passion, and have been shouting that from the rooftops (well, Twitter) for months.
Those reasons alone should make renewing the show a slam-dunk. But I have more.
Even if it wasn’t one of the service’s more popular comedies, and even if the media wasn’t in love with it, Netflix should still renew the show, because it is a feather in the company’s cap. It provides proof that Netflix is committed to quality shows that not only inspire passionate fans, but do real good in the world. It’s a show about a Cuban-American family that addresses issues of LGBT acceptance, PTSD, financial insecurity and mental illness with grace and insight, and it still manages to be really, really funny. That’s one hell of an achievement, one that Netflix should be celebrating with a renewal. It shouldn’t be making fans sweat the program’s very survival, a spectacle that, at this point, is starting to look unseemly.
It’s also worth noting that “One Day at a Time” is good to have around given some of the inclusion issues Netflix (like television in general) continues to grapple with. It’s been celebrated for having shows like “Luke Cage,” “Queer Eye” and “Orange Is the New Black,” but the company still has far to go in certain arenas. The Netflix board appears to be all-white, and, according to USA Today, “African-Americans only make up 4% of staff and leadership; Latinos comprise 6% of staff and 5% of leaders” at the company.
According to a recent Los Angeles Times story on female directors, only 14% of Netflix’s directors are female. That’s actually down a couple of points from the 2014-2015 season, according to numbers obtained by Variety for a 2015 story. And yet recently, CEO Reed Hastings said the company wasn’t interested in pursuing “inclusion riders.” If actors and creators insist on them in their contracts, the riders would help create more inclusive crews and casts. Hastings said the company would rather address these matters “creatively.” He later clarified his comments via Twitter: “What I was attempting to say is that we’ll continue to work [with] creators on diversity and inclusion. This is one of our core values [and] it’s about more than a piece of paper. We seek more inclusion thru hiring [and] finding new voices in front & behind the camera.”
Admirable sentiments, but so far Netflix’s efforts have not produced the results of, say, the Fox networks, where 29% of directors are women, or Amazon, where a third of directors are women, according to the L.A. Times.
“One Day at a Time” has a sterling track record on this front. As Calderon Kellett pointed out, all of its directors were white women, women of color or men of color, its writing staff is half women and 20% LGBT, and the show’s “guest cast was 61% female & 50% POC & disabled.”
In addition to being warm, witty and hilarious, “One Day at a Time” gives pride of place to Latinx women — the emotional spine of the show is composed of the relationships among the joyful and proud Lydia (Rita Moreno), the fierce, kind and occasionally overwhelmed Penelope (Justina Machado), and many key storylines have involved Penelope’s queer daughter, the forthright and nerdy Elena (Isabella Gomez). All three women are stellar in these roles.
The prominence of these characters stands in stark contrast to the rest of television, where, according to the annual Boxed In study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, in the 2015-2016 season, Latinx women only got 5% of all speaking roles.
As the National Hispanic Media Coalition pointed out in a recent open letter to Netflix urging it to renew “One Day at a Time,” “Hispanics and Latinos make up 17.8% of the nation’s total population and are the second-largest racial or ethnic group behind white Americans, but are grossly under-represented in television and film… It is high time that Latinos are represented equitably and positively throughout the television industry. While writers, directors, and producers like Kellett and Royce are doing their part to tip the scales, we need Netflix’s continued support of shows that Hispanic and Latino communities embrace.”
One bright spot that Netflix can regard with pride: According to the advocacy group LGBT Fans Deserve Better, it had more queer women on its shows than any other network. In wrapping up its coverage of how TV treated queer women in 2017, the LGBT site Autostraddle pointed out that Netflix had a whopping 43 queer women across all its shows. And new programs like “Everything Sucks!” represent an ongoing commitment to continue supplying solid storylines about gay women to an audience that is frequently subjected to tragic tropes and stereotypes — when it’s not being ignored or underserved.
Netflix may or may not respond to the many pleas from critics, TV obsessives, queer viewers and Latinx advocacy groups to keep this gem of a show going. But if it chooses not to renew “One Day at a Time,” there will be a vociferous outcry from all of those parties, and it should ready itself for that pained, disbelieving response. If “ODaaT” is canceled, we will have watched a show do everything right and still die.
That the way TV used to work. Wasn’t Netflix going to change that?