'One Day at a Time' gets a modern makeover on Netflix
Posted January 6
LOS ANGELES — Television's enthusiastic attic-rummaging for old shows to resurrect isn't abating.
With an increasing number of outlets in need of content, original ideas are augmented by reboots and sequels including "The X-Files," ''Fuller House," ''Gilmore Girls" and, debuting on Netflix, "One Day at a Time."
But it may be unfair to put Netflix's sitcom in that company. Yes, it has original producer Norman Lear aboard. Yes, it's about a mom raising two children without benefit of their father. And yes, it's a traditional multi-camera comedy with a (restrained) laugh track.
In many other ways, it's altogether its own show.
The 1975-84 CBS series broke ground by featuring a divorced Midwesterner, on her own and struggling to re-enter the job market and care for her two daughters. Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli starred, with Pat Harrington Jr. as Schneider, the apartment building superintendent.
This time around, mom is a former military medic now working as a nurse in Los Angeles, with a boy and a girl to raise. She's separated from her husband, who's decided to remain in the service. And she's got her own mom on hand, enlarging her support circle beyond Schneider (a mainstay of the original that stuck).
Another change: the first "One Day" family was white, this one is Cuban-American, with characters and stories that are a reflection, in part, of executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett's own life. The stage and screen writer is working with fellow executive producers Lear, Mike Royce and Michael Garcia.
"As a Latina writer, it's all of a sudden very in fashion, the Latino voice," Calderon Kellett said, adding tartly, "I thought it was great forever, because that's what I am."
An award-winning playwright who proved her TV chops with "Devious Maids" and "How I Met Your Mother," she'd been approached before about doing a project based on her family, including her Cuban immigrant parents. But her protectiveness toward them held her back.
A conversation with Lear, he of "All in the Family," ''Maude" and more hits, changed that.
"I felt very comfortable with Norman, and obviously his pedigree speaks for itself," she said.
Royce, joining Calderon Kellett to discuss the show, brings his own impressive credits, including "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Men of a Certain Age." He also contributes the parent-of-teens perspective that Calderon Kellett, mother to two younger children, has yet to achieve.
Both credit Lear, 94, with giving them the freedom to use his earlier series as the starting point, not a template. "Who is the single mom of today?" Lear asked them, the producers said.
What emerged was Penelope, played by Justina Machado ("Six Feet Under"), who appears rock-solid but grapples with family stress and her military experiences. On hand to help and hinder are Penelope's mom Lydia, played by the remarkable Rita Moreno, and a hipper Schneider (Todd Grinnell). The kids are outspoken teen Elena (Isabella Gomez) and younger, image-conscious Alex (Marcel Ruiz).
It all sets up the kind of social and political stories that are Lear's trademark. In the first episode, Elena rejects having a quinceanara — a traditional coming-of-age celebration for Latinas — as outdated and sexist, leading to a clash with her mother. Religion, immigration and sex are among other topics woven into the show's 13 episodes released together Friday.
Viewers have shown themselves willing to accept diversity as part of the new sitcom model, with "black-ish," ''Fresh Off the Boat" and "Jane the Virgin" among the proof. Calderon Kellett says authenticity is the key to creating characters that carry across racial and cultural lines.
"I don't feel like we need to water it down to appeal to more people. I feel like being specific we're going to appeal to more people," she said.
Royce recalled the operating ethic espoused by "Everybody Loves Raymond" creator Phil Rosenthal: "If it's happening in your house, it's probably happening in a lot of houses."
There's also familiarity in the show's multi-camera format, which struck a chord with Calderon Kellett: "The playwright in me is delighted to write these nice long scenes, without interruption. And there's a studio audience, there's a proscenium."
There's also more time per episode — up to 30 minutes, compared to the roughly 22 minutes allocated network sitcoms to allow time for commercials.
In fact, as Calderon Kellett tells it, there's a general embarrassment of riches, many linked to Lear himself. When she mentioned to him that she had an ongoing joke about imagining Moreno as her mom, the impeccably well-connected Lear brought her aboard. When she and Royce said it would be wonderful if Gloria Estefan could do the revamped theme song, Lear replied, "Oh, I'm friends with Gloria. Let's call her."
But Lear's stellar career is a challenge.
"We want to live up to Norman's body of work," Royce said.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.