Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'One Day at a Time' - Penelope Readies Herself for Her First Date Since the Separation in 'A Snowman's Tale'

Netflix's One Day at a Time - Episode 1.04 "A Snowman's Tale"

Penelope suddenly finds herself back in the dating game after Schneider shows her how to use an online app for meeting people.

It really hasn't been established just how long Penelope and her husband, Victor, have been separated. It's largely just been important that they are and now Penelope is doing her best to care for their family. There isn't any hope of them getting back together with her being at home and him choosing to continue serving overseas. It's fresh enough that this new family dynamic is still new. But it's been long enough for Penelope to start thinking about dating again. It's a very familiar story. It tends to follow the same plot beats too with Penelope being really awkward and unsure of how to date again after all of these years. It's amusing that she has to go to Schneider in order to get advice on dating apps. It's fun seeing her out of her comfort zone like that. But it's also a very poignant moment for her too. She knows this news could affect her family in some big ways. Not only does she have to be comfortable dating again but so does the rest of the family. It's in those moments where this episode truly shines.

Of course, Justina Machado is more than capable of leading a story all by herself. Frankly, it's surprising that it's taken the industry this long to make her a sitcom lead. The stuff with the family is where the show truly shines. And yet, that is only one aspect of Penelope's life. This episode gets into her own insecurities about dating again. She was married to her husband for 17 years. And now, she's 38 and doesn't know if she is still desirable. She needs the approval of others in order to feel confident about this date. It's pretty amusing to watch her jump from person to person. It seems like she'll spend the entire night talking about the date to other people instead of actually going on the date. She does talk to a number of people about how she's feeling. It's a way to show this story in a non-linear way with the focus on the actual night with flashes of setup to tell the audience how she got to this point. It's an experimental and playful way to break up a story. It mostly works too. Plus, Machado clearly has a ton of fun as she gets to just talk people's ears off as Penelope.

But it's still a big choice for Penelope. At first, she decides to date again because her co-workers tell her she should go for it. She's reluctant to the idea but after a delivery guy seems to like her she's all in on the idea. The episode that follows is a near constant back-and-forth though. She has doubts about this date. But then, one by one they start to fall apart. She believes her mother will disapprove because she's still married. Of course, Lydia does. But she's also not opposed to her daughter just having dinner with a guy. In fact, she even offers her some red lipstick to help get a second date. Then, Penelope worries about her kids. She has to plan this date during a time when they'll both be busy. But Elena is able to figure it out before Penelope leaves. It's great that the shaving of a mustache is a running joke throughout this episode. Alex is the only one left in the dark about the date. That strangely feels right given everything that we know about Alex so far. He can be left aside and doesn't need to be let in on everything right away. That gives Penelope the confidence to go out. But even then, she's building up expectations in her head that the date will never be able to match.

And yet, it's fascinating to see how this story ends for Penelope. She decides not to go through with the date. It's all because a waiter asks her what she wants. It's a simple question. He was referring to a drink or appetizer. Instead, Penelope took it as a more profound question. Is this truly what she wants right now? Does she want to be dating? She has set up so much anticipation and pressure for this date. She'll need to come back with some details to give Lydia and Elena. So, she'll need to keep lying no matter which option she decides to choose. But that is perfectly fine too. This is a big decision for her to make. The episode basically proves that she isn't ready to take this step yet. She spent the whole time questioning whether or not she should do it. She was seeking out other people's opinions when she should be asking herself. It's disappointing to Lydia and Elena. They waited up to hear all the details. Penelope came back with nothing. She said she had a nice time but the sparks just weren't there. It was a story that Elena bought right away. But of course, Lydia knows better but doesn't let that show.

This whole story gets more profound and special when it comes time for Penelope to tell Alex the truth. He is the only one who truly knows what happened to her this night. She is honest with him. To her, he is still her impressionable son. She may not know everything about his life but she still wants to hold onto his innocence a little while longer. Elena may have been fine with her mother dating again. But Penelope had no idea how Alex would react. But the show draws a nice parallel between the characters that forms a nice bond between them. The family dynamic has largely been about the women with Alex largely just coming in with a punchline. He has never been the chief focus of a story. But he is front and center with Penelope here. He too doesn't think he's ready to date even though his friends are all pressuring him to. He got ready just like his mom. But in the end, he didn't go through with it. It's an experience that ultimately brings the two of them closer together. It's a way for Penelope to know more about her son and be a good role model for him. Of course, that just leads to another joke about shaving their mustaches. But even that is a very funny moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Snowman's Tale" was written by Gloria Calderon Kellett & Mike Royce and directed by Phill Lewis.
  • The fantasy sequence that shows how Lydia and Berto first met was magical. It certainly elevates everyone's opinion of love. It also sets high standards for any first date. It would be nearly impossible for Penelope to find anyone like that.
  • Of course, it's not surprising that Schneider is an emotional mess after hearing the story of how Lydia and Berto first met. That's a punchline that really worked. But also, it was such an engaging story that really drew everyone in to hear every detail.
  • It's also a running joke that Lydia still speaks to Berto out loud. But that takes on poignancy as well in the end when the audience sees the two of them talking with each other in the same club where they first met. And now, they are talking about how their lives have changed and what they should do next. It's a very sweet moment.
  • Penelope talks about her insecurities with her Uber driver, the bartender and a girl she meets in the bathroom. The story probably could have lost one of those interactions and still been the exact same. As is, it was maybe elongated too much.
  • It appears that Elena has just discovered what gossip is. She had no plans to tell Alex about her mother's date. And yet, as soon as he came in the room, it was all she wanted to do. She didn't buckle under pressure but the urge was there.
  • Penelope doesn't see herself and Dr. Berkowitz as similar people. She respects him but their lives are different. And yet, he does point out that they are older and single which brings about new challenges when dating and socializing.
  • There's a moment when Alex is telling Penelope about his potential date when she wonders if there is anything more that he wants to tell her. He doesn't say anything else but the show definitely seems to be hinting at some questions about his sexuality perhaps - which could be interesting. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into things.

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.