At some point, One Day At a Time feels like it should take a step back. One would think the show could eventually run out of things to say. After all, it is rare that sitcoms can yet each episode, showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce prove they’re far from done. The sitcom about a Cuban family living in Echo Park, Los Angeles, has never stopped finding uniquely personal and intimate ways of discussing topics. Once again, One Day At a Time proved why it belongs in the conversation for the very best programs on television today.
In season 3, the series follows Penelope (Justina Machado), a single mother and Army Vet, as she prepares for her Nurse Practitioner’s exam. Her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno) recovers from her coma with the help of non-boyfriend Dr. Burkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky). Meanwhile, Penelope’s daughter Elena (Isabelle Gomez) continues to fight through the struggles associated with coming out in high school. Alex (Marcel Ruiz) gets caught with weed and begins to understand the repercussions of drug use. Finally, Schneider (Todd Grinnell) tries to find his place in the family, despite being their landlord and handyman.
The show continues to push the envelope on mental health, addiction, and sexuality. While other sitcoms have addressed the issues before, this one does so with such an authentic approach, it feels like you are sitting in on the conversations you’ve had with loved ones. The actors are more than up to the task, and the Netflix advantage of never needing to break for commercial means that a scene can play out as long as it requires. Instead, One Day at a Time gives the issue its due, and in doing so, can get into the nitty-gritty of a topic.
Once again, the cast shows how far they’ve grown in just three short years. Once again, the triumvirate of Machado, Grinnell, and Moreno anchor this season. Machado has proved more than capable of ripping your heart out when its called for, and her emotional breakdowns showcase a master at work. The way in which she tears into the dialogue when she’s asked to. Yet its her ability to handle the light comedic touches that showcase a well-rounded performer. Moreno gets to continue to show why she’s a legend, and while this season gives her more comedy than drama, she’s usually good for the funniest line reading in every episode.
The real surprise this season is Grinnell. His material gets the biggest boost this season, and his ability to layer in the character’s darker side into regular conversations has never been more necessary. The second half of the season really gives him the opportunity to shine, and he delivers a heartbreaking performance in the penultimate episode. He handles each moment with authenticity and gives an awards-worthy performance as a result. My heart melted with his work, and it is tough to imagine you could ask for anything more.
Once again, Ruiz and Gomez take a step forward as performers. You can tell they are confident in their abilities as performers. However, that confidence never overshadows the emotions of their characters, and perhaps that is the most important thing to take away. They each carry a burden this season, with their narrative arcs actually informing the other characters in a big way. Ultimately, they are a valued piece of this show that need to be at their best to make the emotional beats hit home.
One Day at a Time would be an easy show to overlook, but that would be doing yourself a disservice. What Calderon Kellett and Royce have keyed into with the show has made it special. Then the performers elevate the material every episode. It remains remarkable that this show has not caught on in a bigger way, but that is to the detriment of everyone else. Instead, the show finds ways to consistently surprise the diehards. One Day at a Time deserves to be in the conversations about the very best shows on television. Fingers crossed it actually gets its due.