The One Day At A Time reboot has beaten the odds at virtually every turn in its production. The family sitcom, produced by Gloria Calderón Kellett, Mike Royce, and original series creator Norman Lear, gave new luster to the old multi-cam format when it premiered in 2017. Each renewal was hard-won, especially the last one. But, as we wrote after Netflix canceled the beloved yet, by the creators’ own estimation, underseen show in March 2019, resilience is in the DNA of this joyous Latinx-centered remake. The former streaming series was picked up by Pop TV last summer, in a sense marking the return of One Day At A Time to CBS.
With the Alvarez family set to make their cable network debut on March 24, The A.V. Club spoke with Calderón Kellett about the reboot’s move to a more traditional outlet, what it’s like to be at the forefront of a new wave of Latinx-led series, and what she looks for in a love interest for Justina Machado.
Note: This interview was conducted before One Day At A Time joined dozens of other series and films in shutting down production over the coronavirus.
The A.V. Club: You’ve all had some time to process the end of the show’s run at Netflix. Did it feel like you had to grieve the previous iteration before you could move on and really dig into what you wanted to do with the fourth season?
Gloria Calderón Kellett: Well, we had sort of set up season three to have the payoff this year. We set it up so that Penelope has a new job, that she is feeling good about being full, and that her daughter is getting ready to apply to colleges—this is going to be Elena’s senior year. Lydia was in Cuba at the end of season three... there’s a lot that we immediately had to deal with when starting this season and continuing the story of this family. So the stories just wrote themselves—this is the fastest that we’ve ever been able to break stories. It was just flowing out of us. And maybe it was because there was a year away from it where we were dying to tell these stories. So the moment we had that opportunity again, it just came flooding out. But yeah, we came in with so many ideas we didn’t even use because we had so much already to say.
AVC: There’s this wonderful moment in the season three finale, “Ghosts,” where Penelope kind of tells her father she is choosing herself. What does that mean for her in the fourth season?
GCK: That’s the reevaluation of what does she want in her life, what’s important to her. And so that’s really what she’s exploring this season: What does it mean to get everything you’ve always wanted, right? Which I think is what a lot of people face when they’re in their 40s. It’s like, if you’ve worked hard for this career, and then you have the career, what’s next? So it’s that constant question about what’s next and how do you continue to push yourself in your personal life and in your professional life, which is really what season four is largely about.
AVC: When you work in the binge model, it can be tricky to balance more episodic storytelling and serialization because the binge model almost necessitates the latter, but that hasn’t historically been the nature of most sitcoms. Now that you’re back in the traditional land of sitcoms—network television—have you had to change how you balance the episodic and serialized stories at all?
GCK: With our show, we have had some serial elements, but they were always sort of “umbrella serialization.” So it wasn’t like each episode depended on the next episode; you can watch our show out of order, and still the vast majority of it will make sense. Mike [Royce] and I both come from traditional network sitcoms: he was on Everybody Loves Raymond, and I was on How I Met Your Mother and Rules Of Engagement. So we had both grown up with that sensibility anyway, which, I think the first three seasons—while bingeable—many of those episodes just stand alone. I would say the same is true for this season. We have an arc that we’re building to, but any of the episodes on their own have their own merit. So it’s the same—that didn’t really change for us very much.
AVC: You mentioned Mike’s work on Everybody Loves Raymond. It was recently announced that Ray Romano is dropping by as a census taker in season four. Have you guys fleshed out your guest star roster?
GCK: Not everybody yet. Because we have shorter runtimes, we have less room for guest stars, but we do have some fun ones that I can’t announce yet. And some people we’re hoping to get that we haven’t locked in. So more to come on that.
AVC: Raquel Justice has joined the cast as Alex’s girlfriend Nora. Is there anything you can say about that character or what you and the writers were thinking of when introducing this new relationship?
GCK: Yeah, we’re really excited about Raquel. She’s new to the scene—she’s done a couple of smaller parts on shows, but this is the largest part that she’s had. We really wanted to honor our Afro-Latina brethren—there’s not a lot of Afro-Latina representation on television, and we had heard that a lot from our fans. And we thought, we don’t have that many outside characters, now we actually are going to have a new outside character; let’s cast a new Afro-Latina actress. I did a Twitter call for new actresses to send materials in, and we found Raquel, and she’s spectacular, so we’re really, really excited to have this little loving relationship for Alex. Finally, he’s a young man, so we have to honor that. And then we have to talk about their relationship. They’re moving pretty fast, so we talk about that as well.
AVC: The show has handled teen romance in a way that’s just beyond thoughtful. Will we be seeing more of Syd and Elena’s relationship as well?
GCK: Oh, yes. There’s a lot of Syd and Elena this year. This year is really about the hard talks—you know, they’re about to go off to college, so what does that look like for them? What does that mean for their relationship? We do definitely go deep with them this year.
AVC: You have directed on this show in the past. Is that something you tackled again this year?
GCK: Yes. I’m directing three episodes.
AVC: How do you decide which episodes you want to be behind the camera for?
GCK: Always at the end of the season so all the writing’s done. [Laughs.] Mine are always at the end of the season for that reason—so I can be in the room for as much of the story-breaking as possible. Because, when you’re directing, you’re on set all week—you’re not in the room. So it’s making sure the vast majority of the work is finished so that I can just focus on what’s happening on set. That’s really the only thing that dictates it.
AVC: Justina Machado just embodies the role of Penelope Alvarez—she is Penelope. And we know Penelope is single, and there’s usually some romance for her every season. When you write for someone who’s going to be opposite somebody like Justina, what are the keywords? What is the inspiration for “this is the kind of guy Penelope would fall for”?
GCK: Strength. They have to be fierce. I mean, she’s fierce, as a human and as an actress and as this character, is a force. So the weak need not apply. [Laughs.] You know? She needs to be with someone who knows who they are and is as strong as she is. And that’s a lot of strength. She’s a tough cookie. So I think that’s really what it is: strength and somebody who really knows who they are.
AVC: With most long-running shows, if there are romantic relationships, there’s always a part of the fanbase that thinks “Oh, they should have ended up with this person,” or “These people should have ended up together.” You’re active online and very responsive to people who have questions about the show, so who is it that the fans think Penelope should reunite with?
GCK: Yes, they all want Max. I know. [Laughs.] I know, I know. And we love him, too! Ed Quinn’s starring on another TV show. And we love Ed. Ed Quinn is great. We promise she’s going to have very satisfying love in her life this year.
AVC: But Justina really does exceptional work on the show, yet she’s never been nominated for an Emmy for playing Penelope. I’ve seen the Justice for Justina or an Emmy for Justina hashtag campaigns–
GCK: Oh, my gosh, I know. She is phenomenal. She’s so good, and it blows—it baffles me. It truly baffles me that she hasn’t gotten the love that she so severely deserves. Because she is absolutely brilliant in this role.
AVC: So how soon should the #JusticeForJustina hashtag start trending?
GCK: Every day, please! Every day.
AVC: One Day At A Time is now almost one of the elder statesmen of this new wave of Latinx-led shows. How does that feel? At this point, your show is years ahead of new shows like Netflix’s Gentefied. You also premiered before Starz’s Vida. What does feels like to be one of the ones that’s been around the longest, and what do you think is necessary to keep that momentum going? Because we have more of these shows, but obviously still not enough.
GCK: Right. I’m so steeped in this because last night was the Gentefied premiere, and Justina [Machado] and Isabella [Gomez] and I went to support, and people were so struck that we were there supporting them, like “Oh, my gosh, this is a Netflix show—we thought you wouldn’t be here.” And we said, “We still all have Netflix! And we love this show and we want to support it.” And then America Ferrera, who is an executive producer on Gentefied, did a beautiful speech where she included us, really calling out: “I see the One Day At A Time people are here, and we’re so grateful in what you did and paving the way for us to be here.” And it was beautiful! We’re sitting there, like, “Oh, my god, we’re all celebrating each other.” It’s not this old mentality that there could only be one, so everybody was fighting like crabs in a bucket. It’s really such a celebration of “more”—let’s have more of this. These shows are all great and all so different. It’s wonderful. We love that we can be the seniors [Laughs.] and give love to the freshmen coming in.
AVC: You mentioned supporting other Latino creators. It was recently announced that you’re working with the Black List—the annual survey of Hollywood insiders’ favorite unproduced screenplays—on a program for Latinx writers.
GCK: The Black List has done such an awesome job—initially, with The Black List, it was, “Hey, here are some really awesome scripts that people have loved that have not gotten made.” And it was shining a light on newer writers who maybe didn’t have the bandwidth to reach a bunch of eyeballs in order to get their work bought, really, in order to get production and all of that. The Black List putting out that first initial list got a lot more movies made by writers who were a little bit unknown. They’ve done a couple of lists now—they did a GLAAD list as well. The Black List has been really integral in all of that, so we’ve been in talks with them—they did a Latinx list for movies, and we really wanted there to be a Latinx list for television because, obviously, TV is really needing some changes. So we partnered with the Latinx Tracking Board, NALIP [the National Association Of Latino Independent Producers], Remezcla, Unidos to really highlight the people that are writing original pilots with Latinx-led characters, written by at least one Latinx person, to put out into the marketplace and say, “Hey! These exist and we all agree that they’re great.” Because it is hard. There’s a lot of content, and not all of it is good. But, you know, when we are 18 percent of the population and still on television in only 3 percent of the roles, that’s a big problem.
AVC: Last December, at NALIP’s Diverse Women In Media panel, you spoke about how comedy seems to be the way to break in and change people’s hearts and minds. How does that sentiment inform season four of One Day At A Time, or inspires your storytelling from show to show?
GCK: It inspires all the storytelling from show to show. Since the beginning. I mean, for me, the thing that was always really stark when I would watch television and see Latino characters is that they’re very serious on television. [Laughs.] They’re always suffering mothers and drug dealers—just very serious. And that’s just not how I know my community to be. And I think that when we laugh together, something magical happens in the air. Love and laughter are two emotions that I think really unite us. And I think that, for me, that’s sort of my purpose for making what I make, is trying to unite, and trying to build bridges, and trying to understand one another. What drew me to writing is trying to understand what other characters and finding what the commonality is. I feel like the commonality is love and joy: It’s what we’re searching for, it’s what makes us complete. If the weather is terrible outside and you have love and joy, it’s always sunshine in your heart, you know? It’s that.
Certainly I have thought that, when people watch the show, it’s the love and the laughter that they remember. It’s the family and how they feel about each other, all laughing together, that makes them see their own family in us, regardless of whether or not they are Latino.
AVC: You mentioned earlier that Latinx people are 18 percent of the population in this country, and we’ve been talking about this new wave of Latinx-led shows. Even though they’re very different shows, they still get lumped together in the “timely” or political pool. But for me, these shows feel more groundbreaking because they just let these people be—
GCK: People. Yeah. It does weirdly feel like just being Latino is political right now, which is so odd. [Laughs.] I feel so often like me just being a woman and being a Latina is a political statement in the world if I am using my platform to talk about anything. So, I guess if television is my platform, I would very much like to spread the message of love and joy.