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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

One Day At A Time showrunners explain the draw of their new animated special

Illustration for article titled One Day At A Time showrunners explain the draw of their new animated special
Image: Pop TV

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Tuesday, June 16. All times are Eastern.


Top pick

One Day At A Time (9:30 p.m., Pop TV): One Day At A Time was one of many shows with seasons cut short by the pandemic, and is one of considerably fewer shows to find a way to produce another episode despite the shutdown. Tonight’s “The Politics Episode” is the result of what must have been an unruly and complex labor of love—an animated special that sees the Alvarez family fantasizing about how a visit with conservative relatives Estrellita, Tia Mirtha (Melissa Fumero and Gloria Estefan, both returning to the series), and Tio Juanito (Lin-Manuel Miranda, making his debut appearance) will go.

TV editor Danette Chavez spoke with showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce about making the animated special, how it taps into the current political moment, and how to move forward with production during and after a pandemic.

The A.V. Club: This cast is such a tight-knit group, both on camera and behind the scenes. How did everybody adjust to this remote work process? What is it like to make something together while being far apart?

Mike Royce: That’s a really interesting question—they’re such a great ensemble live, and obviously our show lives in a live, play-like space most of the time. I don’t know, am I allowed to be proud of them? But I guess I’m old enough where I can say that. [Laughs.] But they had to become voice actors and do a completely different thing for their own show that they’re used to doing a certain way. And they all just killed it. They were able to turn all the jokes, and they were able to bring all the emotion. They sounded like they were talking to each other. At the end, they made me tear up—which, I think if a cartoon is making you cry, then I guess we’re doing a good job.

AVC: Without giving anything away, this episode does feel like an extension of the national conversation about divisions, whether they’re political or socioeconomic. It digs into something that so few shows do: the fact that there are conservatives even in marginalized groups. What are you hoping to accomplish by opening up that part of the conversation?

Gloria Calderón Kellett: As most of the things on the show, this comes from lived experience. I’ve always been a West Coast, Cuban Latinx. I was born in Portland, Oregon, and then lived in San Diego and then lived in L.A. Half of my Cuban relatives are on the West Coast, and then I have a bunch that are also in Miami. I still love my Miami relatives very, very much, but some of them are conservative. Some of them voted for 45. We have conversations with one another, mostly poking fun at one another in a loving way, but also trying to get our points across.

It feels a little different now with this guy. This feels like a different thing and what’s happening in this country, I think is a direct line from this particular president. What’s happening has always been in the conversation, and in terms of liberal versus conservative points of view, but it just seems a little bit different. We really wanted to get this show out before the election to encourage conversation, because like you said, this is something that happens within the Latinx community. Just this week, I’m having a lot of conversations about anti-blackness in the Latinx community, which a lot of people don’t know about, but we have a deep history. I mean, they can keep the Conquistadors were the first ones to bring slaves over to Latin America. Latin America has a 300-year-old relationship with anti-blackness and slavery, whereas America has 200 years. We have 100 years on them. So, it makes for a very layered experience.

AVC: This is a very meaningful episode, but it’s also a whole lot of fun. It feels like you guys really went for broke here with all these great fantastical sequences. When you were writing the episode, did you think, “Okay, we can do everything we might have held back on previously”?

MR: It’s actually a little freaky how much of the original live action script is still there. It’s basically the same because we had always planned to really not have an audience for this one and shoot it over the course of a couple of three days and have all these fantasy sequences. Except we picture them with CGI, and the fight sequence would have been with stunt people and wigs and just making a big joke out of how ridiculous it was. As written, it was a departure for us stylistically. So when Gloria was like, “Why don’t we do it animated?” That’s why it jumped out. They’re like, “Oh, it’s already kind of written that way.” It turned out to be great to take advantage of all of the things you can do in animation. But there’s very few things that weren’t already there actually, like the laser beams and the heads exploding—those are all actually all in the live action script.

AVC: There have been reports and interviews about what TV is going to look like going forward. What do you think things look like going forward for your show, and for TV show productions in general?

GCK: I will admit that initially I had seen this as a one-off, but it’s been such a delight that I am open to doing more if that’s what’s meant to be for this moment as a way of continuing. Because I haven’t seen a clear path of returning that keeps national treasures like Rita Moreno safe. So we’ll have to be creative.

MR: Yeah. I’m not going to say we’re taking it one day at a time. [Laughs.] Why would I say that? That would be insane to say. But we’ll just have to wait and see and write. [Danette Chavez]

Look for our recap later today. 

On stage At home

Rossini’s Semiramide (The Metropolitan Opera Live In HD, 7:30 p.m.): The Metropolitan Opera’s free nightly streams have offered plenty of classics of the opera world, but there have also been quite a few underseen gems. This bel canto opera is one such piece. Soprano Angela Meade stars, trilling her way through aria after dazzling aria, but the vocal pyrotechnics aren’t the only draw. There’s also a truly bonkers plot that includes, in the words of the Met, “political scheming, mistaken identity, divine intervention, and bloodthirsty revenge,” centering on a queen “whose quest for power comes to a halt with the discovery that the object of her affection, the warrior Arsace—sung by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong—may actually be her long-lost son.”  Like all free Met streams, this one becomes available at 7:30 p.m. and will remain free for 23 hours.

Wild card

American Masters: Mae West: Dirty Blonde (PBS, 8 p.m.): PBS calls this “the first major documentary film to explore Mae West’s life and career as she ‘climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong’ to become a writer, performer, and subversive agitator for social change.” Executive-produced by Bette Midler and directed by Julia Marchesi and Sally Rosenthal, this can’t-miss installment of American Masters traces West’s career from child actor and vaudevillian to Broadway playwright and film star and beyond.

Can you binge it? A considerable selection of previous installments of this invaluable series are available for free through PBS’s website, including Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, Terrence McNally: Every Act Of Life, Raúl Juliá: The World’s A Stage, Worlds Of Ursula K. Le Guin, and Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool.

Frontline, “The Virus: What Went Wrong?” (PBS, 9:30 p.m.): This 90-minute special includes interviews “with top officials, scientists and first responders in China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and the U.S.... [and] identifies a chain of fateful missteps—from Chinese authorities’ early silencing of dissent around the emerging virus, to the World Health Organization’s failure to more quickly sound the alarm, to Italian officials’ slow initial reaction. Then, it unpacks the reasons for, and defining moments of, the Trump administration’s halting response despite warnings going back to January, and a string of missed opportunities to contain the virus before it was too late,” per a press release.