Rebooted old shows are as common as Geico ads on television these days, but everyone involved with the new Netflix version of One Day at a Time insists it has almost nothing to do with the decades-old classic of the same title.
Well, except executive producer Norman Lear and what Lear calls “common humanity,” which he says is the secret ingredient for pretty much all successful TV shows.
Lear created the original One Day, in which a single Mom played by Bonnie Franklin raised two daughters, played by Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli. It ran from 1975 to 1984 and was one of the most successful sitcoms of its day.
The new edition, which drops its first 13-episode season Friday (1/6) on Netflix, stars Justina Machado as Penelope, a single Cuban mother now in America and raising two children, the teenage Elena (Isabella Gomez) and the slightly younger Alex (Marcel Ruiz, all at top).
Penelope is separated from her husband and works as a nurse to supplement the child support he pays. Money is an issue and so is the constant presence in the relatively small apartment of Penelope’s mother Lydia (Rita Moreno, also at top).
The character most directly lifted from the original cast is Dwayne Schneider (Todd Grinnell, left, with Machado), the family’s busybody landlord and near-constant companion.
Lydia, it seems, likes to cook his meals and let him know how handsome he is, though part of the joke is that he really isn’t.
Lear says, though, that the times and the context give the new One Day a much different feeling than the old one. He notes that while he’s an executive producer, the real creators of the show are fellow EPs Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce.
“We didn’t even look at the scripts from the other show,” Lear told TV writers Wednesday. “Gloria and Mike worked with their own ideas 100% of the time. It’s an entirely different show.”
Using the same title, Kellett suggests, was mostly a good sales hook – as was having veterans Lear and Royce as part of the team.
“If I’d pitched a show about a Latina single Mom,” she said, “I don’t know if anyone would have paid attention without these two wonderful guys attached to it.”
The early episodes of the new One Day are less reminiscent of the earlier show than more contemporary sitcoms like black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, where culture clashes add different flavors to the familiar family dramas that drive virtually all sitcoms.
A major thread in the first episode, for instance, has Elena being pressured by her mother and grandmother to participate in a traditional coming out party for young Cuban girls.
Elena declares that she doesn’t want to be paraded around like someone’s potential trophy, triggering an extensive, often comedic back-and-forth about this particular Cuban tradition.
Simultaneously, Alex is pushing hard to become part of what he considers a critical middle school tradition in their adopted country: having a different pair of sneakers to wear to school every day.
There’s also discussion within the family about language issues. Lydia laments the disappearance of Spanish in this Americanized generation, and one small thing that viewers will notice is that when Lydia or others speak Spanish, there are no subtitles.
“That was a conscious choice,” says Kellett. “We’d talk about ideas in the writer’s room and people would laugh even when they didn’t understand Spanish.
“Later we have a whole scene filmed in Cuba, which is entirely in Spanish, and we do use subtitles there. But when it’s just Lydia’s Spanglish around the house, we think viewers will get the gist.”
Kellett also cheerfully admits that the family here is Cuban, rather than Mexican or Puerto Rican, or Dominican, “because I’m from Cuba.
“I have a lot of Latina friends who are non-Cuban, and obviously we all have our own jokes. But I find I can have the most fun when I can make fun of myself and my own experience.”
Not that the whole show is jokes. One thread that carries over from the original Lear template is weaving serious issues into the comedy.
For instance, Kellett notes, accent jokes can be funny, “but I remember times with my mother, who came over from Cuba with my father and kept an accent all her life, was marginalized because of it.”
In the end, says Lear, he’s confident that viewers will embrace this family simply because viewers will like them.
“No family of any stripe, color and religion won’t be able to relate to this,” he says. “That’s the common humanity.”