Friday, January 6, 2017

REVIEW: 'One Day at a Time' - Penelope Fights for Her Worth at the Office in 'Bobos and Mamitas'

Netflix's One Day at a Time - Episode 1.02 "Bobos and Mamitas"

When Penelope and Elena complain about not being taken seriously as women at work and school, Lydia offers advice from an older generation.

"Bobos and Mamitas" opens with Penelope waking from a nightmare and Lydia needing to comfort her back to reality. It's a dark and personal way to start the episode. It shows that Penelope has more problems going on than the situations that ultimately become the main plots in each episode. It's an opening sequence that ends with Penelope taking a pill and convincing herself that she is not crazy for doing so. And yet, the scene also gets distracted with the themes that will become important in the rest of the episode. Instead of talking to her mother about the crazy dreams she's having, Penelope is surprised to see that Lydia is still wearing makeup - even though she has just woken up from sleep. That leads to Lydia once again spelling out to Penelope how she wants to look after she dies. It's a speech Penelope has been hearing since she was a young girl. She's able to recite it word-for-word. It's a funny moment. After that, Lydia gets up to start the morning routine. And then, Penelope takes the pill. She does so away from her mother. So, she's still keeping these issues to herself. Lydia can see them but Penelope is taking care of them by herself. It's just a small moment that opens the episode. It never becomes important again in the rest of the episode. But it's clear this is something the audience should keep its eye on this season.

Of course, Penelope has a whole lot more to worry about in this episode as well. This one focuses more on her workplace dynamics. It fleshes out that world more after the premiere established the bonds amongst her family. The family is still important to Penelope and the overall show. They just don't need to be the core source of the chaos in Penelope's life. They are capable of having their own subplots to engage with. Their lives don't need to be instinctively tied to Penelope. Schneider can visit the apartment to get salsa lessons from Lydia while Lydia can try and get Elena to care more about her appearance. It still all ultimately connects back to Penelope and the larger themes of the episode. "Bobos and Mamitas" tackles sexism and how feminism means different things to people of different generations and life experiences. It's an interesting discussion for this family to have while also being engaging as a sitcom story for the complications it produces in the characters lives.

As a veteran, Penelope has a good sense of what sexism is. She had to face it everyday when she served. She had to work twice as hard in order to be seen as just as good as a man. It was work she was proud to be doing. But it was also a male dominated profession where people would frequently see her as different. She had to work hard to change their minds. In the process, she lost some of her female identity. But she became stronger because of the experience. It may be disappointing to Lydia to hear this story. To her, women need to treat men delicately. It's all a play for power. Women need to trick men into believing they have it even when they don't. That brought a lot of happiness to Lydia over the years even though Penelope and Elena don't have the same aspirations. Lydia doesn't know how others could view the subject differently. And neither can Penelope with her own worldview. She initially sees sexism as this aggressive thing where the man's words and actions treat women as objects. It takes her awhile to notice the casual sexism that now dominates the world. The old form of sexism still exists. But the search for equality is still an uphill battle. One that Penelope decides to fight and potentially lose her job because of it.

Penelope is upset with a co-worker of hers, Scott, because he's a foolish man who always seems to get rewarded for doing less than her. It's a pretty on-the-note and simple way to tell this story. It's an easy conflict to pop up to get Penelope to voice how she's feeling and to be right in her arguments. The threat of her potentially losing her job doesn't feel real or earned though. This is just the second episode of the series after all. But it's still empowering to see Penelope so passionate about her situation. It feels good to be able to yell at her co-worker for how he has mistreated her in the workplace. It's also an interesting commentary on equal pay. It works as a plot twist too because it's rooted in the characters and not just a topical issue. When Penelope first got this job, she was just gracious to find work. She needed to find something quickly in order to provide for her family. That was the pressure she felt as a single mom. She didn't know how much she should ask to be paid. Meanwhile, the man was able to come in with confidence and the ability to just demand it. Even in the fight to be equal, men and women are different. In the end, Penelope is able to get what she's worth for everything she does at the office. Dr. Berkowitz sees her value and knows how important she is to his practice. It's a happy ending for her that also does a solid job establishing her world at work.

Similarly, it's interesting to see the parallels drawn between the older generation who see outward beauty as power and the middle school mentality where boys are drawn to the cute girls and not those who have something to say about the world. It's not as important or nuanced as the main story with Penelope. Its conflict and story largely happens offscreen. It's mostly just Elena and Lydia learning how to understand and respect their differences. Lydia wants Elena to put more work in to look beautiful. To her, that's the granddaughter she wants even though it doesn't ultimately make Elena happy. Elena goes along with all of this becomes she wants to be taken more seriously as the voice for composting at her school. It's a nerdy cause that no one takes seriously. The show treats it as a punchline and nothing more. It's suppose to be a shocking reveal when Elena walks around the corner as a beautiful woman wearing lots of makeup. It's a difference that everyone notices. Penelope and Lydia appreciate the importance of makeup. Penelope doesn't equate it with power as much as Lydia does but still values wearing it throughout the day. Meanwhile, Elena sees it as her not being her authentic self. Elena holds some big passions. She's not always able to articulate them well. This is a journey of discovery for her this season. She's finding her voice and the family is learning how to cope and accept that. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bobos and Mamitas" was written by Becky Mann & Audra Sielaff and directed by Pamela Fryman.
  • The running joke about Schneider trying to impress a new girl is largely just an excuse to get Rita Moreno to dance. However, it does provide some insight into how different people view love. For Lydia, it was love at first sight with her husband. It was a love that lasted for over forty years too. For Schneider, love is nothing and this girl is simply someone he met and is currently having some fun with.
  • The way the show talks about mansplaining through mansplaining as a form of joke is interesting. It really forces Schneider to step back and think about his actions. Of course, the message really doesn't work on Alex. But it was largely just a bit to break some exposition up with humor.
  • The ditzy receptionist character is a bit too familiar of a character trope. Though it is funny watching Penelope be both angry and happy with her during her big blowup at work. Plus, an explanation is later given for how this woman got the job in the first place.
  • Dr. Berkowitz struggling to say no to people is a solid builder of character. It makes him very uncomfortable during confrontations. He wants to distract people from talk of sexism in the workplace simply by dropping his pen. But in the end, he's there to keep Penelope from actually quitting and making sure she knows she's valued.
  • When Dr. Berkowitz comes over to the apartment, he does act a little flustered around Lydia. They only interact for a second or two. But that could be setting up a pretty interesting dynamic in the future.
  • Alex definitely believes he's the cool and pretty one in the family. That's basically all there is with that character so far. Elena's character arc is much more important. Though Alex's relationship with Penelope and Lydia should be seen as well.
  • Elena doesn't love embracing Cuban stereotypes. She calls the family out for doing so. And yet, who can resist the appeal of a dance party?

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.