Tuesday, January 10, 2017

REVIEW: 'One Day at a Time' - Penelope Has to Have Awkward Conversations with Alex and Elena in 'Sex Talk'

Netflix's One Day at a Time - Episode 1.10 "Sex Talk"

When Penelope finds porn on Alex's laptop, she struggles to talk to him about sex, but their reluctant conversation leads to a surprising discovery.

It's easy to understand why One Day at a Time did an episode like "Sex Talk." It makes sense to have it at this point in the season. Elena's sexual identity has been an important character arc this season. It makes sense that she reaches some clarity on it before her big quinceañera, which is bound to be the plot of the season finale. And yet, the emotion and sentiment that comes from Elena finally reaching some resolution in this regard is clouded by the over-the-top sitcom hijinks that comes from most of this episode. Again, most of it is fine. It never takes away from that solid moment between mother and daughter that closes the episode. That is still a genuine and heartwarming moment. The episode that builds to that point is a bit more awkward. It's an awkward conversation. So in that regard, the show does a solid job matching the emotion connected with the main story. Just too much energy is wasted on character misunderstandings which leads to broad character hijinks. There is nothing wrong with that. It just feels a little weird to see Penelope become so irrational when it comes to the topic.

Of course, that's what the sex talk is. It's a parent sitting a child down and having to explain things that are really uncomfortable. Penelope wants to make sure she is fostering an open household where her kids are comfortable coming to her and talking about whatever is going on in their lives. She wants to have that open dynamic with them because she didn't have that with Lydia. Lydia saw the sex talk as a stern talking to that was basically "you can't have sex until you're married." It's the Catholic approach to the subject which is a very fitting and understandable opinion for Lydia to have. This show has a ton of fun out of the joke of Rita Moreno watching porn. It certainly is an interesting and funny visual. It's the kind of thing that no normal person would enjoy thinking about. It's awkward whenever anyone opens that laptop and sees the porn playing on the screen. They immediately shut the screen down completely unaware that it will pop up again for the next person to open it up. It's hilarious that Lydia actually takes the time to carefully study what is going on. She's a refined woman who enjoys going to the opera. And now, she's watching a threesome. Afterwards, she has an over-the-top reaction to everything because it's a horrifying sight. So, her ultimate reaction is the same as everyone thought. It's just funny getting to that point.

But the humor can only distract so much from the serious conversation that Penelope needs to have with her kids. At first, everyone is convinced that Alex is the one watching the porn. That makes sense. He's at the age when he's starting to form these questions. The show then gets into an interesting debate about the perils that come from the digital age where all of this information is just a click away. It is now so easy for an innocent kid like Alex to be corrupted by all of this stuff. Penelope doesn't want to be the one to force that change. She was never expecting to have this talk with him. She hoped Victor would do it. But now, she needs to. But again, it's all just one big comic misunderstanding. Alex is getting the sex talk even though he doesn't want it. Plus, he wasn't even the one watching the porn. He seemed like the only viable choice. Seeing his reaction basically proves that he's still too innocent and doesn't quite have these questions yet. Penelope can hold off with the talk for a little while longer.

This is where the story takes a little too awkward of a turn. Penelope knows that Elena is the one who is secretly watching porn. That means the conversation has to be different now. Elena has had the sex talk already. It didn't go well. But now, this renewed interest may mean she's actually having sex. That's a change that means the kids really are growing up. That's a fact that Penelope may not be able to handle just yet. So, the show feeds her false information. It sets her up to explode for comedic effect even though nothing is going on between Elena and her boyfriend, Josh. Her co-workers inform her that all teenage boys think about sex and there's technical workarounds to still be "virgin" on one's wedding night. And then, Alex tells his mom that Josh is throwing a party while his parents are away. That's what Elena is doing right now instead of enjoying a movie night with Josh's family. It sets Penelope up to go out of her mind a little bit. It's an adventure that ends with her being stuck in a doggy door freaking out that her daughter is doing something she shouldn't. It's big and broad material that Justina Machado sells well. It just didn't completely work for me.

But again, the emotion and sentimentality of that final scene between Penelope and Elena is wonderful. Isabella Gomez has really grown as an actress across this first season so far. She is able to hold her own in this difficult conversation with Penelope. It's awkward and intense but needed to happen as well. So far, Elena's conflict has been very internal. That has been hard to dramatize. It's mostly lead to weird situations where Alex knew that she was questioning her sexual identity but had to keep it a secret from the rest of the family. But it's so important that Elena is the one who ultimately comes out to her mother. She shares that she really does like Josh. She's enjoyed dating him. But she doesn't feel any romantic feelings towards him. Yes, sex is on her mind. She is curious about it just like any regular teenager. But she's had more to deal with as well. She's been very confused about her identity. And now, she feels comfortable enough sharing this struggle with her mother. At first, it doesn't seem like Penelope will be there to listen to her daughter. She makes this experience too much about herself and creating an open environment. But she is supportive and listens. She hears what Elena has to say and embraces her for it. They both recognize that it will be even more difficult to break the news to Lydia. But they also know that their bond will be stronger because they are open and honest with each other. That's a hopeful message that shines bright even in an episode that has some pretty awkward details. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Sex Talk" was written by Becky Mann & Audra Sielaff and directed by Michael Lembeck.
  • The only thing that doesn't totally work with the reveal that Elena was the one watching porn is her just carelessly leaving it open on the computer. She's smart enough to use Alex's laptop in order to avoid getting viruses on her own. And yet, she's not smart enough to cover her tracks and make sure no one knows she's doing this? It mostly seems like a way to get this story started.
  • Rita Moreno watching porn is more than enough material for a joke. It's a lengthy shot made humorous because it's her watching. And then, she throws in the opera glasses which really takes it over-the-top in a unique and funny way.
  • Schneider feared he would have to give Alex the sex talk earlier in the season. And here, he actually has some good advice for how to do it too. Of course, his own story is much more complicated than that. It's yet another reminder that he came from money and his father could simply pay someone to handle the tough but necessary parenting like this.
  • Alex hides under a blanket in order to avoid having the talk with his mom. That's an interesting visual. It shows that he doesn't want to have this talk yet either. Plus, the show has a lot of fun in showing just how naive he still is about the subject. He didn't even know threesomes were possible.
  • So what does all of this mean for Elena's quinceañera? Will she continue to stick to tradition and have Josh as her escort? Does that mean she'll keep dating him even though she doesn't love him? Or will she find her own way to forge her own path and tradition while breaking free of the traditional gender roles?

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.