The last year has taken none of the luster or joy from One Day At A Time. Cancellation, fan campaigns, and a last-minute save by Pop TV—this delightful reboot from Gloria Calderón Kellett, Mike Royce, and original series creator Norman Lear has seen it all and kept moving. A little more than a year after Netflix pulled the plug, ODAAT returns with renewed vibrance and vigor, and plenty left to say about the issues that families across this country face today.
Season four kicks off with (alas) an abbreviated version of Gloria Estefan’s conga-driven take on the original theme song, and a light-hearted dig at ODAAT’s old home when Alex (Marcel Ruiz) observes that there’s “nothing good on Netflix anymore.” But the premiere primarily focuses on (re)introducing the Alvarez family, who have all changed since the reboot premiered in 2017, yet retain many of their strengths and flaws. Penelope (Justina Machado) is still tough but loving, and very single—a fact that is underscored throughout the three episodes made available to critics. She’s now a nurse practitioner, but that doesn’t stop her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno, who continues to give it her all), from vying for control of the household. Elena (Isabella Gomez) remains a lovable, overachieving dork, even as she and her Syd-nificant other, Syd (Sheridan Pierce), figure out the next steps for their relationship. Alex is still much cooler than his upbringing would suggest, while Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) and Schneider (Todd Grinnell) continue to be the opposite of cool and laidback.
One Day At A Time moves to a familiar beat in its fourth season, making smart commentary from deep within the comfortable environs of a family sitcom. A visit from a census taker named Brian (Ray Romano) prompts the funny, exposition-heavy dialogue in the opening moments of the premiere, but it also brings real life crashing into the Alvarezes’ living room. Elena stresses the importance of participating in the census, but Penelope’s mistrust of government highlights the generation gap. The show remains a not-always-subtle delivery system for pertinent information: Brian reminds the extended Alvarez-Berkowitz-Schneider family that there are no citizenship questions on the census.
It’s a bit much to describe the premiere, “Checking Boxes,” as a mission statement for the latest iteration of One Day At A Time (which began its life on CBS, and is now airing on a ViacomCBS-owned network). But the show keeps its heart firmly on its sleeve, exploring Elena and Syd’s fears of what their relationship will look like in another year, and a new romance for Alex. As Nora, Raquel Justice is a charming addition to the cast; she wins over the audience as readily as her character wins over Lydia. Penelope’s love life, or lack thereof, is also a primary concern for the show; she may have chosen herself at the end of season three, but she knows being a “badass feminist” and feeling lonely aren’t mutually exclusive.
ODAAT keeps the old traditions alive while also working in new ones; the Country Crock container still sits among the rest of the Tupperware, promising hidden, non-margarine delights. When it comes to sex, the humor is a little more graphic than before, a development that’s likely owed to everyone, including the teens, getting older. The running joke in the third episode, “Boundaries,” involves masturbation, discomfort with female sexuality, and Outlander. But the winning gag is a delicate, elderly Latina euphemism from Lydia, who is still learning new things about her 42-year-old daughter despite the lack of eponymous boundaries. Economic realities are still very much on the minds of the Alvarez family and the show’s writers; when Penelope confronts her scarcity mentality with some help from Schneider, it’s a powerful reminder of the one-of-a-kind discussions happening on One Day At A Time. These conversations are happening across the country, and not just in households that mirror the Cuban American Alvarez family.
Returning guest stars like Judy Reyes and Mackenzie Phillips maintain the same great chemistry from seasons past, while other casting choices spice things up. The core ensemble brings the same passion and humor to every one of the interactions among the Alvarez, Berkowitz, and Schneider clans: Machado’s Penelope continues to do Emmy-worthy work and serve as a beacon for single, working parents everywhere, while Moreno is still a cut-up with a perfectly deployed curtain pull. Grinnell’s long since taken Schneider from clueless hipster to empathetic friend and neighbor, and it looks like he’ll get to take another step forward in his character’s progress in season four. Intriguing new developments abound, as Penelope jump-starts the next chapter of her love life, Elena takes on a bigger role at home, and Alex tries to establish some boundaries among his excessively close family members. Even the sweet sad sack that is Dr. B. gets upgraded to friendly “fleshbag.”
The novelty of the season extends past the screen, as critics and audiences get used to the idea of weekly installments instead of a tear-and-laughter-filled binge. ODAAT nailed the balance between long-form and episodic storytelling in its first season, and manages to keep it up in the move to a more traditional outlet. The show lends itself just as well to weekly visits as a weekend-long stay, though the change does make it a bit trickier to judge the season as a whole. But given One Day At A Time’s knack for midseason standout episodes and exceptionally moving finales, it’s say to safe that this isn’t it for the show—there’s a lot of life left in this reboot, so get ready to have a ball.