Sunday, January 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'One Day at a Time' - Penelope Finds a New Friend at a Car Dealership in 'The Death of Mrs. Resnick'

Netflix's One Day at a Time - Episode 1.06 "The Death of Mrs. Resnick"

When Penelope's faithful car finally breaks down for good and she's forced to trade it in, she meets a kindred spirit in the unlikeliest of places.

Once again, One Day at a Time shows a strong ability to take a fairly simple and familiar sitcom story and turn it into a strong emotional showcase for its talented cast. The events of "The Death of Mrs. Resnick" don't work as well as the previous episodes. At times, the main story feels like Penelope finally revealing details to the audience that help inform her backstory with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Victor. Meanwhile, the B-story with Elena and Lydia is just a little too thin to work at all. But overall, it's still a nice and easy episode to watch that helps better inform the characters. This world feels so lived in already. Plus, this episode seems to be setting up some great and interesting things in Penelope's future. Her life with the military could be getting more focus in the next few episodes. That aspect of her life hasn't been all that important in the episodic stories so far. It's had an affect on her. It has helped define her as a character. But it should be interesting to see that take more priority in the foreground of the story. The show has been unafraid to tackle topical issues like that already. So, it could provide the show with some very interesting narrative material.

All of this happens because Penelope's car finally breaks down. It has been a clunker for most of Elena and Alex's lives. They've only known it as a vehicle where you can't roll the windows down and a tape of Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" is stuck in the player. The whole family has a whole routine to get the car started again after it breaks down on the side of the road. Again, this feels like something that has been a part of these characters' lives for a long time. The doors tend to get stuck so the family frequently finds themselves having to crawl out of the trunk in order to escape. It's about time they've traded it in for something new that actually works. But it's difficult for Penelope to let go because this car represents so much of her past life and happiness with Victor. This was his car. It was the vehicle they took on their first date where Victor knew that he would one day marry Penelope. This car is symbolic of their relationship. It was here from the very beginning. And now, saying goodbye to the car means that that relationship is now officially over.

It then appears as if the show takes a turn into this being a story about traditional gender roles. Penelope doesn't know how she'll be able to buy a new car. Money is an important subject. And yet, it plays less of a role in this story than one might expect. Elena and Lydia offer to chip in. That helps inform their character arcs in the rest of the episode. But the story is much more interested in Penelope getting the vehicle instead of worrying about how she'll be able to afford it. That's perfectly fine because the show has much greater ambitions on its mind. Penelope is able to learn as much as she can. She frequently boasts of being a veteran. And now, she is hopefully able to use that to prove she is a badass who deserves to be taken seriously at the car dealership. Of course, it's a weird story once Schneider also gets involved. As tough and well-prepared as Penelope gets, she still believes she needs to take a man with her in order to be treated fairly. It's a big joke when the car salesman turns out to be a woman. She then also happens to be a veteran. So, everything Penelope has done to prepare is suddenly no good in this negotiation.

Of course, it was all just a front in order to get a good deal. It's over-the-top plot beats in order to derive laughs. Penelope proves that she knows how to negotiate and gets a fair price on a new CRV. And yet, that happens offscreen. It's just important that the episode is broad leading up to that point and emotional when it's finally time to say goodbye to the old vehicle. It's a transition Justina Machado is more than capable of making. She ensures that it all makes sense in the moment too. It's a victory that she has gotten a new vehicle. But then, it suddenly hits her when she's cleaning out the old car and all its memories. It's after that that she tells Jill, the saleswoman, the tragic details of what her life was like with Victor near the end of their marriage. These are completely new details to the audience. We've been lead to believe that they split because he decided to return overseas to work private security. We've known there were other problems too. But now, Penelope reveals just how bad things really were. It's such a tragic moment as well that really makes your heart break for Penelope.

So, Penelope tells Jill her story. She and Victor met and were the happy couple everyone else was jealous of. He was a strong man but a funny one too. They both served in the military. They both saw some difficult things. Penelope returned with just some minor PTSD and a shoulder injury. Victor got it a lot worse. He started sleeping more and got drunk a lot. He was no longer the funny guy she married. Now, he was an almost abusive man to her. It was no longer a safe environment for their family. At one point, Penelope had to take his keys away to keep him from committing suicide. She had to leave in order for him to get help. That help just came from this new job. That gave him purpose. And now, Penelope is wondering if leaving was the right thing to do. She's very open with Jill even though the two of them have just met. And yet, there is an easy camaraderie between the two. Jill invites Penelope to a support group of women soldiers. It could be very beneficial to Penelope to talk about her story with people who understand what she's going through. Her military life has been something she doesn't really talk about. Opening up to people will probably help her even though it may also force her to relive some dark memories. That's a promising tease for the future. It's a solid moment of hope to end the episode on. Jill pulls Penelope out of this dark and emotional time. Plus, the episode gets to end with the whole family in the new car singing to "Unbreak My Heart." That's a fun ending. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Death of Mrs. Resnick" was written by Andy Roth and directed by Victor Gonzalez.
  • After the car breaks down, Elena is committed to only taking public transportation in order to be more eco-friendly. After a couple of days of it though, she finds it exhausting. It's a thin story that doesn't really go anywhere.
  • Of course, it's fun when Lydia gets to frequently point out that Elena's many social causes can often make her an annoying teenager. Plus, it's great that Lydia is able to be more green than Elena. She even enjoys it too.
  • Plus, Lydia has another story where she's inspired to teach dance again in order to help pay for the new vehicle. It's largely just a story built around that final punchline that reveals her flier is probably more sexually suggestive than she was intending.
  • Schneider proves to be useless at the car dealership. He has a nice car. But he probably didn't have to worry about it like Penelope does because he comes from money. Plus, it's great that Jill sees through the act right away. There's no way someone like Penelope would be married to Schneider, who freaks out over a spider.
  • The bit about Lydia pronouncing "sheet" like "shit" was weird. It was a perfectly fine comedy bit. It just didn't really feel like it belonged on this show.
  • Dr. Berkowitz's daughter really does sound like a mess. He's meeting with her and she's bringing her therapist and spiritual guide. Both of which he is paying for but has never met them. Of course, there's no update for how this meeting ultimately goes. It just shows that he does have a life and can't do things with Penelope just because she asks.

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.