Monday, January 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'One Day at a Time' - Everyone in the Alvarez Family is Keeping a Secret in 'One Lie at a Time'

Netflix's One Day at a Time - Episode 1.08 "One Lie at a Time"

Penelope tells her family she has a date and Lydia says she's going to church, but each secretly goes elsewhere. Meanwhile, Elena tests an attraction.

The 2017 version of One Day at a Time has very little to do with the original version from the 1970s. They both have a similar premise in focusing on a recently divorced woman raising two young children. They both have a character named Schneider who frequently appears in the family apartment. But other than that, they are two distinct shows. This one is inspired by what worked in the past. It honors the format of the multi-camera sitcom. But it also wisely updates the formula for 2017 so that it's just as necessary and relevant today as it was decades ago. I bring all of this up now because original series star Mackenzie Phillips appears in "One Lie at a Time." This show launched her to stardom all those years ago and she's had an up and down history with the series. And here, the studio audience greets her with a welcome applause. Plus, she gets to deliver a line that nods to the original series while still saying remakes can be great too. It's basically nothing more than a cameo appearance. She doesn't have an actual character. She pops up in a scene that is important to Penelope's season-long story. But she ultimately doesn't make much of an impact in the overall story. It's a nice cameo but wasn't completely necessary. The story works perfectly fine without her. Of course, she could always come back as recurring character too. The story would merit that.

With all of that being said, this is another great episode of what's turning out to be a strong first season. "One Lie at a Time" is perhaps more comedically driven than previous episodes. But it also just highlights how strong this cast is becoming and how confident they are with this world. It's an episode about secrets. Every member of the family is keeping a secret from everyone else. It's fun to watch all of them try to keep these secrets. And then, the story forces everything to come out in truly spectacular fashion. It's a familiar sitcom setup. But once again, the show proves a willingness to use familiar storytelling patterns and remind the audience of why they work so effectively in the first place. Confidence with the writing and acting allows the show to get away with a story like this. It's just a fun episode that moves all of the character arcs forward nicely while still being funny and experimental.

It's significant that Penelope is going to therapy. She's going because of Jill's suggestion. She gets to talk to a room full of people who understand and can relate to what she's going through. Lydia may not approve of therapy. She believes it's only for crazy people and Penelope is not crazy. She simply doesn't believe in it. She believes strong people will be able to fight and overcome any illness. She doesn't see the value in talking about one's problems to other people. She doesn't see how that could be comforting to someone like Penelope. And yet, it's a really good idea for Penelope to do this. Sure, she takes up most of the speaking time for the week. She's really nervous and hopes to make a good first impression with this group of women. She does that for exactly being herself. That's the person they are interested in getting to know. Penelope doesn't know if she can share her full story but she does. It feels really good to say it all out loud. This is a good and healthy experience for her. Sure, it's emotional when it's all over. But it's very rewarding as well. It marks a key sign of personal growth for her.

Meanwhile, it's clear that Lydia and Dr. Berkowitz are moving forward with their relationship. Of course, Lydia wants to keep things mostly platonic between them. She's in love with Jesus and her late husband, Berto. She has no intentions of replacing either of them. Sure, she lies to the family and says she's going to church to feed the poor when she's actually going to the opera with Leslie. It's a night out that will hopefully be a lot of fun. And yet, she doesn't actually get to enjoy the opera. Her shoe breaks in the hallway and she hurts her foot. She spends the night in Dr. Berkowitz's office having him check her out to make sure she's okay. That reveals that she actually had a stroke years ago and didn't tell anyone about it. That makes it even more impressive that she gets around as much as she does. It shows that she is a fighter. It also highlights just how stubborn she is because she refuses to see a doctor no matter what. Of course, she does make a big deal about needing to have part of her foot shaved off. She suddenly believes her foot is no longer sexy enough to be seen. She milks this injury for all that it's worth. That's a lot of fun. But the events of this night out make it hard to keep her dynamic with Leslie a secret from the family.

And then, Elena is continuing to question her sexuality. It was a story introduced in the previous episode with only Alex knowing just how confused she really is. Elena sees herself as this very open and progressive person. She is socially active and wants to be a champion of all people. She doesn't have to be gay in order to fight for gay rights or understand the value of that identity. But it is a question she's having. She's at the age where she's just trying to figure all of that out. She has big ideas about the world. They annoy the family a lot of the time. But it's fascinating watching this story play out. She has never been with a boy or girl. So, she doesn't know what to do when the popular boy she asked to be her quinceañera escort says yes. She wasn't expecting that. She was expecting to be rejected and then use that as an excuse to get out of this tradition. Instead, she finds herself falling into a more conventional young love story. She invites Josh over when the adults are away. The two really connect and enjoy a kiss. It's a special night for her that brings clarity to her life even though the entire family soon barges in and all the secrets are exposed.

That's when the episode is at its most fun too. All of the secret keeping is enticing and amusing. But it's so much more gratifying to see all of these issues and stories out in the open for everyone to deal with. Of course, not every detail of their lives come out. Penelope knows something is going on between her boss and her mom. She's confused by it but doesn't press for details. Meanwhile, Alex and Schneider know that it's not their place to share Elena's sexual uncertainty. But it's great when Penelope is able to openly talk about therapy with her family. She shows them how meaningful it is to her. It made her feel happy, appreciated and heard. Lydia tells Penelope about her stroke and agrees to get a full medical checkup to make sure that she's healthy enough to continue living the way she is. And finally, Elena gets punished for lying to her mom and having a boy in the apartment. But it's also really rewarding once everyone leaves and Penelope wants to know how Elena feels about that kiss. It shows an openness on Penelope's part. She wants her kids to feel comfortable enough to tell them anything. That could be so important in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "One Lie at a Time" was written by Debby Wolfe and directed by Phill Lewis.
  • It's important that Penelope goes to therapy. But how frequently will that group be seen in that setting? It could be a fun recurring element for the next portion of the season. Or perhaps just those characters will become friends and fixtures in Penelope's life. Jill has already become that and she's been a fine addition so far.
  • And yet, has the family not met Jill? It allows for the big misunderstanding where the family believes Penelope went out on a date with Jill. That allows Alex and Schneider to share a look about their Elena secret. But that confusion only works if they don't know who Jill is.
  • Leslie is clearly more into Lydia than she is into him. She wants them to be platonic companions. He wants to be dating her. The connection is there should the show hope to develop it further. It should be interesting to see what happens next.
  • Neither Schneider nor Alex have proven to be good at keeping secrets. They both manage to have it slip out some way or another. It doesn't take being in Schneider's apartment long before Alex starts talking about lesbians. That in turn leads to some confusion about whether or not Schneider will have to have the talk with Alex.
  • Alex also happens to be a big fan of the guy who said yes to Elena. Apparently, Josh is a popular jock who Alex looks up to. That leads to the punchline of Alex being more into him than Elena even though she's the one who kissed him. Is that just a simple punchline or the beginning of something more with Alex?

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.