'Time' and again: A '70s sitcom returns, same yet different
Norman Lear, who brought politics to three-camera comedy back in the 1970s, has remade his feminist family sitcom “One Day at a Time” for Netflix and the 21st century.
With all 13 episodes now available to binge, it preserves the domestically framed, socially engaged flavor of the original while mixing in new verve. And it has turned out very well: smart, fun, bighearted and less noisy and hectoring than Lear works of old could sometimes be.
In the original series, which ran from 1975 to 1984, Bonnie Franklin played a recently divorced mother moving to a new city with daughters Mackenzie Phillips (less conventional, more political) and Valerie Bertinelli (more conventional, less political). Building super Pat Harrington Jr. made it a figurative family of four.
In the new show, developed and run by Gloria Calderon Kellett (“How I Met Your Mother”) and Mike Royce (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and filmed, as before, before a live audience, the setting has moved from Indianapolis to Echo Park in Los Angeles. The family is now Cuban, which determines the details but is less the point than it would have been if this were 1975. (Gloria Estefan has set the show's original theme song to a Cuban beat; it's a natural fit.)
Justina Machado plays Penelope Alvarez, a former Army nurse and Afghan war vet, not divorced here, still the mother of two: daughter Elena (older, still the less conventional), played by Isabella Gomez and a son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz). The series gains an extra generation with Rita Moreno as Penelope's spark-plug mother, Lydia; Moreno, a vital 85, is playing 70 here, which does not seem a stretch. (I imagine her contract stipulates that only so many minutes can elapse in any episode before she is allowed to dance.)
Schneider, still called Schneider, has been transformed from Harrington's mustache-with-a-tool-belt to an aging rich kid (Todd Grinnell) who owns the building where the Alvarez family lives — a sort of playboy hipster who comes into a room full of Cuban Americans wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and says, “Viva la revolution, am I right?” But, of course, he is only looking to belong. If anything, he is more of a presence than his predecessor, and he does do repairs.
As one would expect from the producer of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Maude,” there are plenty of issues raised, which are discussed or argued about at length — sexuality, sexism, PTSD, immigration, alcoholism, environmental concerns, religion and the lack of it — though within the mutually protective circle the characters inhabit, the arguments don't last long.
The pilot, as pilots will, creaks a little under its burden of exposition and character-defining overstatement, but the series quickly finds its natural voice and rhythm. It is lively without being rushed — where the commercial-bearing half-hour sitcom has shrunk to 22 minutes, these episodes run several minutes longer. But generally, it makes the show feel richer, rather than overloaded. Minor characters (including Stephen Tobolowsky as the doctor Penelope works for) get more room to express themselves. Conversations drift a little. There is time to cook, to make coffee — and, yes, to dance.
Robert Lloyd is a Los Angeles Times staff writer.