There are plenty of superstars on television, but only a few icons. Let’s make it clear: Rita Moreno is one of those icons. For kids of my generation, we first knew her as the lady who screamed “Hey you guys!” at the start of PBS’ “The Electric Company.” My parents, of course, knew her as the spitfire in 1961’s “West Side Story.” Now, my kids know her as Lydia, the outspoken grandmother on “One Day at a Time.”
I’ve known Rita Moreno as a legend since the moment I knew what the word meant. Yet that didn’t prepare me for the raucous phone call I had with her early in the COVID-19 pandemic. With production halted on “One Day,” Moreno was back at her house in the Bay Area when I called to get her picks for Variety’s “TV Guilty Pleasure” feature.
Moreno is 88, and was smartly in quarantine during those stay-at-home times. (By the way, that’s as smart of a move now as it was five months ago.) But Rita Moreno can’t be contained, and the confinement was getting to her.
How was she faring in the pandemic? “I can’t get out of the f—ing kitchen,” she proclaimed. “I have to eat, right? I’m not a neat cooker. I always leave a trail of spots and stains. And I’m one of those people who loves a beautiful, bright, clean kitchen. So I’m in the f—ing kitchen constantly!”
I told you: Legend.
A careful Moreno has also been washing everything. “I just finished scrubbing some bottles of beer,” she told me. “I don’t drink the hard stuff but now and then an icy cold beer, you just can’t replace anything like that.”
Seriously, live your quarantine like EGOT winner Rita Moreno. But here’s the rub: Moreno should be cracking open one of those beers right now to celebrate an Emmy nod for “One Day at a Time,” which sadly didn’t come. Moreno has two Emmys — one for individual performance in a variety or music program for “The Muppet Show” in 1977 and for drama guest actress on “The Rockford Files” in 1978. Moreno hasn’t been nominated for a Primetime Emmy since 1983, when she was in the comedy lead actress race for the brief TV adaptation of “9 to 5” — and that’s a shame.
But it goes beyond that. The new “One Day at a Time” has been virtually ignored by Emmy voters, save an annual nomination in the multi-camera picture editing for a comedy series category (where the competition is limited anyway, since there aren’t many multi-cam shows out there). The Television Academy Honors at least smartly recognized the show in 2018 with its “television with a conscience” award. Critics have bestowed much love on the series, and fan support kept the show alive when Netflix canceled it, spurring a move to Pop TV.
“One Day at a Time” boasts a predominantly Latinx cast, and sadly such shows still aren’t getting their due at the Emmys. In a year where African American performers and shows with Black leads saw a boost in representation at the Emmy nominations, there wasn’t room for similar strides among Latinx, Asian American and other groups. Such an omission is a bit mystifying, particularly as the Imagen Awards — which also just announced their nominations — demonstrated there’s no shortage of Latinx contenders.
In comedy, this year that included “One Day at a Time,” “Vida,” “Gentefied” and “Little America,” and stars such as Justina Machado (“One Day”), Mishel Prada (“Vida”) and, yes, Moreno. According to Imagen, this year’s awards submissions increased by 55% from 2019.
And although it wasn’t nominated this year at Imagen (as it has in the past), among the comedies I would add to that list is the always funny “Superstore,” starring America Ferrara, who is also a co-executive producer. “Superstore” consistently impresses me as one of the most well-crafted workplace comedies, perhaps ever. And much of that has to do with the cast of characters, all of who are well-defined and come with unique, original stories. In particular, characters I don’t see enough anywhere on TV such as Nico Santos as Mateo, a Filipino American whose status as an undocumented immigrant becomes a plot line on the show; and Kaliko Kauahi as Sandra, a very rare example of a Hawaiian/Pacific Islander character on a TV show not set in Hawaii.
Comedies like “One Day at a Time” and “Superstore” shouldn’t be overlooked by TV Academy voters if they’re serious about improving representation. And let’s start by getting Rita Moreno out of her f—ing house and back on an Emmy stage.