This year, Netflix canceled one of the best TV sitcoms since “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Similar to how “Fresh Prince” had a positive impact on black culture, “One Day at a Time” (ODAAT) showcased Latino culture in ways unimaginable in the past.
ODAAT, a remake of a show made in the 70s, gave unprecedented representation to Latinos, telling stories about racism, deportation, sexism, addiction, gender, sexuality and women’s empowerment. The way the show approached these topics was realistic to lived experiences, especially those regarding the characters of Penelope and Elena Alvarez.
Post-traumatic stress disorder stories are often told through a male lens, but this is not the case for ODAAT. Throughout the show, Penelope struggles with adjusting to civilian life and suffers anxiety attacks throughout her day. After joining a therapy group of other female veterans and seeking medication, she hides both of these things from her family in fear of judgment, especially from her mother. After the secret is revealed and her mother says that medication is only for “crazy” people, Penelope goes off of the medication. But this fails miserably as, without the medication, she experiences the same problems that she has tried to get over for years. Eventually, she gets on the medication again after her friend explains that, just like she gets check-ups on her car to keep it running, she should take the medicine to be her best self.
Before ODAAT, I had never seen a TV show that covered mental health within the people of color community. Penelope Alvarez is only the second character of my same race I’ve seen openly discuss depression and suicide attempts.
This plot point shows that it is not a weakness to ask for help when you need it. For many others, this is the first time that they may see someone with their same complexion and race struggle with mental illness, and overcome it by being unafraid to ask for help. This message can impact the lives of so many people around the world, and save them from seeking alcohol or drugs to find relief from their problems. Many people of color who are trying but afraid to seek help can watch ODAAT and see what someone who has been in their shoes does to face these problems.
In general, mental health is not something that many people of color discuss openly. Many of us are told to just suck it up; life is hard and we should just grow up. My own great-great aunt is the sweetest person that you’ll ever meet, and yet when I asked her about her views on depression, she did not believe that it even existed. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as people of all races all around the world experience mental health issues. Many people of color are afraid of what family, friends and strangers may say if we get the care that we need through therapy or medication. Some people of color can’t even afford to get the help due to the high healthcare costs.
ODAAT also touches upon themes of sexuality through the character Elena Alvarez as she comes to terms with her identity as a lesbian in her early teens. She tries to figure out her sexuality by dating a guy and watching porn, but in the middle of season one, her 12-year-old brother finds out her secret and keeps it while also processing what it means. He doesn’t know what a lesbian is or what his sister is going through. This questioning is what I appreciate the most from this plot-line, that it is so realistic for this particular situation, rather than attempting to portray reactions that would be digestible to an audience.
While Elena’s mother is very accepting and loving once the truth settles in, she initially freaks out and worries about what her daughter will face being a Latina lesbian in America. However, Penelope’s friend from her therapy group is a Latina lesbian, and she talks with Elena about what the experience is truly like at a gay bar. It is not something that defines her; it is only part of who she is as a person.
Many LGBTQ+ people have experienced similar reactions or worries about being shunned from their homes. For Elena, her father’s rejection at her quinceañera after she fully comes out to her family causes emotional and psychological pain. As her story continues, we see her eventually date a non-binary person by the name of Sid who she eventually falls in love with and loses her virginity to.
I had never seen a non-binary character in a TV show, let alone a sitcom, and ODAAT avoids common stereotypes of lesbian relationships. While Elena does have some issues with her relationship with Sid at times, those issues make the relationship relatable. That said, Elena Maria Alvarez and her storyline are hugely important for representation of people of color and Hispanic people within the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike in the past, they can see that there is ultimately a happy ending to coming out of the closet.
Netflix has a history of canceling shows way too soon, but canceling ODAAT is almost criminal. This show has a hugely positive impact on the Latino community and gives representation to a community of people whose stories need to be told. It also champions diversity, women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health and female veterans. ODAAT needs to be saved and brought back to life. While it seems unlikely due to licensing conflicts between Netflix and Sony, putting this show on Freeform, CW or even another streaming platform would show Netflix what a big hit they let slip through their fingers.
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