What makes a reboot a success? If Fuller House is anything to go by, the answer is nostalgia and empty rehashing of TV formulae gone by. Sure enough, Netflix has doubled down on that recipe, renewing its revival of Full House and churning out more episodes. When the news arrived that the streaming giant was about to do the same for ancient sitcom One Day a Time, then, you wouldn’t be blamed for staying away. But you’d be wrong to do so.
Norman Lear’s programme is another one of those US sitcoms that most people today haven’t heard of, let alone seen. In the UK, it seems even further removed from 2017. But One Day a Time 2.0 couldn’t feel more relevant – and, best of all, doesn’t give a hoot whether you’ve seen the original or not.
Rather than slavishly stick to pastures old, showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce have updated the basic premise almost entirely, revamping it with an eye firmly on the current calendar. Gone is the old working-class protagonist; in her place, Penelope (Justina Machado), a Cuban-American who used to be in the military and is now working as a nurse. She’s as awesome as she sounds, refusing to take nonsense from the people around her with a ferocity that’s only matched by her love for her two children, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz). Living with them is their mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), a devout Catholic and a mean salsa dancer.
What follows is familiar sitcom material, as the group struggle through the day-to-day troubles of being a family unit, complete with arrivals on the doorstep from friendly, whiny landlord Dwayne (Todd Grinnell). A worrying first episode sets up everyone with predictable zaniness and on-the-nose exposition. But before you can turn it off out of fear of being hit by an onslaught of repetitive catchphrases, One Day at Time evolves into something really quite brilliant: the storylines and scenarios that face our motley crew are as contemporary as they come, tackling issues and themes that really do resonate.
Episode 2 is a study of sexism, as Penelope finds herself passed over in favour of her womanising colleague – putting her in conflict with her amusingly pathetic boss (Stephen Tobolowsky). Dwayne sticks his oar in too, leading to a superbly written takedown of “mansplaining”. The following episodes range from whether Elena should wear make-up to school or not to Penelope and Lydia’s differing views of faith.
Throughout, the cast knock these weighty balls out of the park with a light-hearted ease. Machado is superb, her energetic timing and feisty sense of self-worth providing both a good female role model and a way for the show to serve up moral and ethical messages without them being hard to swallow. The rest of the ensemble follow her lead, with Rita Moreno managing to elevate her grandma above the stereotype that she initially seems to be. That’s the key to the show’s success: it balances wit with a bottomless warmth that’s often missing from today’s comedies. Mentions of the Pope, for example, are done with a sincere appreciation of how much religion means to Lydia’s life, something that a lesser series, or most modern series, would blithely mock or overlook.
The result is the same blend of entertainment and emotion that once made sitcoms the staple of living rooms several decades ago, but one that’s served up with an awareness that’s bang up-to-date. It’s old-fashioned, yes, but there’s no nostalgia to be found here. This isn’t the show that Fuller House wants to be. It’s the show that Fuller House doesn’t want to be, and all the better for it; a joyous, fresh TV comedy that’s the perfect antidote to lazy remakes.
One Day a Time: Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.