Netflix Canceled ‘One Day at a Time.’ Now It’s Back to Save Us.
After weathering a cancellation and a search for a new network, “One Day at a Time” is back. As its star and creator explain, the roller-coaster journey couldn’t be more worth it.
She dramatically separates a drawn curtain, a movement so simultaneously sharp, fluid, and momentous it’s essentially another flawless dance piece from the EGOT-winning star. The audience loses it as she elegantly poses on her makeshift proscenium—really a room separator in a small family apartment in Los Angeles—and soaks in the adulation.
It’s entirely likely viewers at home will replicate the ovation this week when the series returns on the Pop TV cable network Tuesday night.
Given the general mood of the world right now, the entrance is akin to the clouds parting and the sun finally shining through. (Through all things, Moreno radiates like the sun.) And beyond the climate in which the new season is being released, fans of One Day at a Time have been desperately waiting for that sun to shine again.
Almost a year ago to the month, Netflix, the original home of the Latino reimagining of Norman Lear’s socially-minded family sitcom, canceled the series, claiming viewership numbers—statistics that the streaming service notoriously never release—weren’t strong enough to justify the cost of another season.
Those who were watching, however, were passionate as an understatement. That included the overwhelming support of critics and entertainment journalists, who glowingly reviewed and covered the show at a scale that rivaled megahits like Game of Thrones or This Is Us. Season 3 earned a 100 percent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered its second consecutive Best Comedy Series nomination at the Critics Choice Awards.
“We were critically acclaimed and we were, you know, pretty universally loved,” Gloria Calderón Kellett, who co-created the show with Mike Royce, says. “Twitter is a place for garbage fires, for dumpster fires. And we really get so much love. You always expect like, oh, here they come now. Theyre gonna come shit on us for something. But they dont! People, I think, are appreciative of a little niceness and kindness.”
“I haven’t seen this kind of a show for a long time, especially in the sitcom world,” says Justina Machado, who plays Penelope Alvarez on the show, the Cuban-American single mother of two teenagers sharing an apartment with her immigrant (and newly naturalized citizen) mother, played by Moreno.
Machado and Calderón Kellett are chatting on the patio of a hotel in Pasadena, a few days after the Critics Choice Awards. They are still a little stunned to be talking about the show’s return, after weathering the dramatic ups-and-downs of its cancelation and ensuing Pop TV rescue.
“Norman says it all the time: ‘I’ve never in all my life’— and this is 97 years—‘seen critics rally behind a show so much,’” Machado says. “So there’s something that struck everybody. We don’t know what it is. It’s a little bit of magic.”
Calderón Kellett and Machado describe the weeks leading up the show’s cancelation as a stressful vigil. The show had seemed to be on life support for much of its run. One day, it would seem like it was dead. The next day, a changing wind would blow some optimistic whispers in their ears. Some cast members were relentlessly optimistic, like Todd Grinnell, who plays landlord and handyman Schneider. But then, as if all of a sudden, the writing was etched on the wall.
The day Netflix brought down the axe, Jeff Frost, the president of Sony Pictures, which owns the series, called and said not to worry. He was going to find the show a new home...somewhere.
A stipulation in the show’s Netflix contract wouldn’t allow the series to move to another streaming service, limiting options and disqualifying interested parties like CBS All Access. But it was Pop that emerged as the most likely contender.
The rising cable network made a name for itself in recent years for airing first-run episodes of Schitt’s Creek, the Emmy-nominated slow-burn phenomenon starring Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. In many ways, One Day at a Time was a natural fit. Schitt’s Creek was finishing its run and the network needed another critically acclaimed, under-the-radar awards contender.
Plus, the two comedies are spiritual cousins. Both shows cut through the glut of TV options because, on top of high-quality writing and performances, they make viewers just plain feel good.
It was a happy ending for angry and confused fans and critics. These are TV lovers who are not necessarily naive. They understand that there are business- and viewership-related reasons to end a series. But from a perception standpoint, the cancelation was baffling. In 2020, an election year, what network or platform wouldn’t want a series that so deftly confronts pressing issue—from Latino representation to LGBT+ acceptance—as part of its brand?
“I feel like what we really try to do on the show, because it’s about family, is we’re trying to build bridges,” Machado says. “The characters are trying to build bridges. They’re trying to find ways towards each other. And I feel like that’s really what we want the country to do, is to have these hard conversations in order to find that we’re more alike than we are different.”
Now there’s finally a home—on Pop TV—for them to continue to do that. In a first, it is a cable network that has saved a show canceled by Netflix, not the reverse.
After everything it endured, One Day at a Time is back. It is, as it’s always been, important because of the issues the show tackles. It’s important because of the representation and visibility it gives to the Latino community and its diverse cast and crew. It’s important because Rita Moreno is that freaking good. And it’s important because, well, it’s happy.
“The show is earnest,” Calderón Kellett says. “In a time where there’s not a lot of earnestness, we are about love and kindness, and being decent to each other. That is the heart and soul of the show. These are three generations that don’t always get each other, but they’re trying to figure it out.”
The show capitalizes on the formula that has turned, in the canon of TV sitcoms, most of Lear’s works into masterpieces. There’s the comfort of the sitcom form—multi-camera, raucously laughing studio audience, and a tone that quilts hammy one-liners with sincerity—that allows for explorations of topics that are quite radical. Over the course of the series, One Day at a Time has tackled PTSD, addiction, LGBT+ issues, anxiety, class inequality, veterans’ rights, and depression.
Alive and vibrant with the Cuban-American culture pulsing through the blood of the Alvarez family, episodes frequently tackle the specific issues and struggles faced by the Latino community in America, from racism to deportation. Like so many diverse and multicultural shows before it, the effect dispels the antiquated industry myth that broad audiences can’t relate to or, more, won’t enjoy stories that are culturally specific.
“We are so grateful when you guys write about us because that means somebody else might give us a shot,” Calderón Kellett says. “And somebody giving us a shot means that they’ll watch and go, ‘Oh my God, I like those guys. I’m gonna be nice to people like that.’ And that’s literally all I want.”
As she continues, Machado is nodding so emphatically next to her she may be risking a neck injury. “The representation is not just that we want to see ourselves on screen because it’s cool. No. It’s because it filters out into society. It is because how people are treated is dependent on how they feel about different communities.”
Tuesday’s Season 4 begins with a gratifying and good-natured dig at Netflix, but more importantly with a perfect example of how the show marries the specificity of the Alvarez’ world to topical issues with universality and, always, good humor.
A Census worker, played by guest star Ray Romano, knocks on the door and asks if he could fill out the family’s form. Penelope shuts the door in his face. “A guy wants a list of Latinos in my house? No thanks.”
Romano’s character reassures everyone that he’s not there to document citizenship—a PSA of sorts to many immigrant Americans following the “citizenship question” debate that has dominated news about the Census—and his questioning becomes a clever gateway for the family to introduce themselves and their relationships to a potential new audience on Pop.
The laughs come with a sigh of relief for Calderón Kellett and Machado. Though Netflix deserves to be criminally prosecuted for the fact that network TV time restrictions have forced the series to trim 7-10 minutes per episode, including the majority of Gloria Estefan’s infectious theme song, the sting of being canceled has been soothed with the balm of a new network. They can still call One Day at a Time a success story.
Because there are still so few shows with Latinx lead characters, female showrunners, and inclusive writer rooms, each series like One Day at a Time is exposed as a test case. If they succeed, there will be more like them. If they fail, networks won’t take the risk anymore.
“I 1,000 percent felt that pressure,” Calderón Kellett says. “I feel pressure because I know that they will look at us and go, ‘Oh, well, we tried to do a Cuban show and it didn’t work.’”
“I love Hollywood, but we know what Hollywood does,” Machado interjects. “They find out what works and then they and then they keep on doing it. And the fact that there are these other Latinx shows coming out, I do feel like we had a part of it.”
Calderón Kellett acknowledges that they only have this platform and fan support now because shows like Ugly Betty and Jane the Virgin blazed trails for them to follow. And the outrage and support that led to the show’s eventual rescue, she hopes, means there are more Alvarezes, more Justina Machados as series leads, and more Rita Morenos blessing TV viewers’ days to come.
“Anytime you’re doing something like this, you carry the 10,000 that came before and the 10,000 that come after.”