Wednesday, January 31, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'One Day at a Time' - Season 2

Netflix dropped the entire 13-episode second season of One Day at a Time on Friday, January 26. This post will feature brief reviews of each specific episode of the season.

The comedy stars Justina Machado, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Stephen Tobolowsky and Rita Moreno.

201. "The Turn"
Written by Gloria Calderon-Kellett & Mike Royce and directed by Pamela Fryman

On the surface, it appears the season premiere is about the turn Alex is taking from a sweet kid to a cruel teenager. He's embarrassed by his family at his baseball games. He's punching other kids. But the premiere also has a very smart turn itself in its structure. It morphs from that conversation about aging into one about colorism within the Latinx community. The first story has its amusing moments as well - like seeing how excited Penelope, Lydia and Schneider are at the game and Dr. Berkowitz not succeeding in trying to reassure Penelope about Alex becoming a man. But it's great to once again witness the pivot this show is capable of in being able to turn serious for a couple of minutes. This is an important conversation that isn't seen on television a whole lot. It proves that these characters can be racist and biased as well - Lydia sees Cubans as the whites of the Latin community. It addresses the different complexions of this family and how the rest of the world judges them on that. It's somehow amusing that Elena wants more oppression when Penelope says the goal is nothing at all. It talks about generational slurs too which again shows how diverse and complicated this subject really is. Bringing everything back around to Alex is earned and it's great to see Penelope practice what she teaches as well. A-

202. "Schooled"
Written by Becky Mann & Audra Sielaff and directed by Pamela Fryman

It's great that the show is following through on the premise of Penelope going back to school to become a nurse practitioner. That was a decision she made in order to benefit her family through that salary bump at work. And now, it's crucial to see the consequences that came from her trying to add this new thing to her busy schedule. School is a major commitment and she is internalizing a lot of the pressure and the need to succeed. She needs to thrive here in order to provide for her family. But she's not letting anyone in on her struggles. That's relatable and also tragic. It's heartbreaking listening to her finally open up to her family about her decision to quit. She just doesn't think she can do it while still being completely committed to her family and her job. The ending is a little expected with the family rallying around her in order to tell her that she can do it. Now that they are aware of her struggles, they can change their behavior to ensure that she can succeed. It's really a group effort. That's endearing and hopefully it will continue to be a recurring story this season. Meanwhile, it continues to be interesting how the show talks about Schneider being an addict without really playing it for the drama it could be. B+

203. "To Zir, With Love"
Written by Sebastian Jones and directed by Phill Lewis

Ed Quinn and Sheridan Pierce debut as new love interests for Penelope and Elena, respectively, here. That makes this one of the more lighter episodes the show has produced. That's perfectly okay as well. It's fascinating to see these two characters try to find some love in their lives. Of course, it's also abundantly clear that it's a struggle to fit them into their already busy lives. The previous episode was all about Penelope juggling too much. It's good that the show remembers that here as she starts having sex with Max on the condition that they only spend 45 minutes a week together. That kind of arrangement seems unlikely to last longterm. But it also makes sense given everything that is currently happening with her. Meanwhile, it's exciting to see this show continue to forge ahead with groundbreaking storytelling with Elena's new love interest being gender non-binary. Sure, Elena spends most of the episode having a crush on another girl. That doesn't go her way. It's a story that highlights how awkward Elena feels about this and needs to rely on Lydia and Alex for flirting tips. But in the end, Syd steps up as someone whom Elena could love very quickly. It's all just so positive and wonderful to see - especially once Penelope loosens her rules. B

204. "Roots"
Written by Dan Signer and directed by Phill Lewis

Rita Moreno is just so terrific on this show. That's probably not the last time I'll say that this season. This is just such a fantastic showcase for her. She plays this role so broadly. And yet, she can make the switch to serious and devastating in an instant. She's an EGOT winner for a reason. So, it's a lot of ridiculous fun seeing her exaggerate Lydia's injuries, hiding out on the fire escape to avoid voting and smoking a Cuban cigar. But then, it's so personal and meaningful when she starts talking about why she never took the citizenship test. She could never renounce her Cuban citizenship. Cuba is still home and she still holds out hope that she'll one day return. It's so heartbreaking. But it's still aspirational to see this family listen to her and know that they need to give her that helpful push to ensure that this family is even stronger in the future. Of course, it also seems like Elena is helping everyone study for some test this season - Penelope in trying to become a nurse practitioner and Lydia and Schneider in becoming American citizens. But that's still fun too. Everything with Lydia and Elena largely overshadows the Penelope and Alex going to the movie theater plot. That story is perfectly fine. But it's mostly just allowing the show to be over-the-top silly too. B+

205. "Locked Down"
Written by Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit and directed by Phill Lewis

This is one of the few shows I trust to have a nuanced and smart conversation about gun control. That's what makes it so surprising and disappointing that it's mostly just an afterthought here that feels tacked on in the end. This show is known for devoting several minutes near the end of each episode to address a serious subject matter. Here, that feels like the routine instead of something that happens naturally from the plot that came before it. It makes the final execution a little awkward. Yes, the two scenes that deal with guns in the house are smart and make arguments specific to this family. Penelope can outline why its bad to have a gun in the house of two teenagers and a veteran struggling with PTSD and depression. But the reveal that Penelope hasn't listened to her own advice doesn't really add a whole lot to the story. It mostly just proves how resourceful teenagers can be in knowing things their parents are completely oblivious about. The true highlight here is the flourishing of Elena and Syd's relationship as Elena learns how to be less awkward and just be herself with her crush. This episode is also further proof that no matter how hard Penelope tries to keep her time with Max limited that's just not going to happen because it's already getting more serious. B-

206. "Work Hard, Play Hard"
Written by Andy Roth and directed by Pamela Fryman

Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz were strong casting decisions for this show. It has been apparent throughout the show that they are becoming more natural actors in this format. It's through their acting that Elena and Alex don't come across as annoying teenagers. That could be so easy with the stories they have. And yet, it's just a lot of fun seeing Alex be cute and charming with Lydia to get out of work while Elena spirals out of control as she tries to make some money on Twitch. It's nice to see Alex in Penelope's work environment too. The show has spent less time there this season. So, these drop-ins are important. Of course, the big resolution with Dr. Berkowitz delivering the gift basket to the apartment means Penelope gets appreciation and respect for her job as a nurse at home instead of the office. That's a little strange but doesn't diminish the story at all. It helps Berkowitz be a little more confident in not being so obsessive and available for Lydia. And then, that final comedic homage with Elena dressing as the Schneider from the original One Day at a Time is just a lot of fun. Hopefully, she continues to work with Schneider as the manager of this building. B+

207. "Exclusive"
Written by Debby Wolfe and directed by Pamela Fryman

I love how much One Day at a Time and Jane the Virgin share their respective casts. They are two shows about the Latin-American experience that appreciate and respect one another. Plus, the actors are clearly having a lot of fun. Ivonne Coll shows up here in a delightful role as Lydia's rival for Dr. Berkowitz's affections, Esme. She's exactly like her in every way. And yet, she is romantically available for Berkowitz. That's something that Lydia can never be because she is still in love with Berto. It's so moving to have Lydia and Berkowitz finally have this conversation about their relationship. It's long overdue while tragically seeming like the end of a friendship. That ends mostly because of Esme. Once she leaves, the two will probably be close friends again. This is an episode of several people in the Alvarez family having to deal with their feelings about other people. Penelope needs to share with Max just how serious her feelings are and that she wants to be exclusive with him. So, he finally gets introduced to the family as her new boyfriend - which they immediately approve of. Meanwhile, it ends with the re-introduction of Victor and the idea that Alex might have a relationship with him despite his big betrayal from the end of the first season. B+

208. "What Happened"
Written by Sebastian Jones & Andy Roth and directed by Phill Lewis

This season hasn't spent much time talking about the aftermath of Victor abandoning Elena at her quinces. Yes, it informed her story at the beginning of the year a little bit. But for the most part, this has been a season of moving forward with new experiences and loves for the family. And so, it becomes shocking and more powerful to see Victor suddenly return. It's told through the context of Elena's life as well. The episode tells the story of Penelope giving birth, letting Lydia and Berto move in with her and Victor and the two re-enlisting after 9/11. It's so completely harrowing watching that sequence where Penelope turns on the television and sees the devastation in New York. It's such a serious moment that changes this family in an instant. Penelope and Victor go off to war. They still start a family. But they are forever changed by their experiences. Those experiences pushed this family apart. Victor caused so much damage. He hurt Penelope. Then, he hurt Elena. They are furious at Alex for seeing Victor again. But that then comes with the realization that he was actually trying to mend that relationship and get Victor to overcome his homophobia. But it's all just successfully building up to that moment where Elena confronts her father. That is such a devastating but empowering scene. Elena's strength comes from her mother. She has become tougher through her coming out experience. And it's rewarding that she finally gets to say these things to Victor. It may not mend their relationship. But it's definitely presented as a new path forward as well if he is willing to love and accept her. A

209. "Hello, Penelope"
Written by Michelle Badillo & Caroline Levich and directed by Phill Lewis

This episode just left me completely speechless. It's already one of my favorite episodes of 2018. It will stick with me for a long time. It's just so absolutely mesmerizing and emotional. This cast and creative team have always been excellent. But this episode just takes the story to a new level. It's just so raw and brutal with such a personal story of Penelope dealing with her depression and anxiety. This is the first time the audience is actually getting to experience her in that state. Yes, the series premiere featured her getting into a fight with Lydia about her pills. But she was already taking them at that point. Here, she believes she has the confidence and stability to no longer need them. That comes with the crushing realization that these fears that creep into her mind have the potential of completely ruining her life. She has always been a ball of energy. She has been moving forward with her life in a confident way because she needs to be the rock of this family. She is strong and has made her family strong too. But here, she is defeated. She's depressed and it hits her quickly and severely. It leaves Lydia struggling to know what to do. She always thought the pills were silly. Personal strength and faith could always heal any disease. But now, her faith is being questioned because she's at a loss. She wants to help but can't. That's just so absolutely heartbreaking. It's even more destructive listening to the message Penelope records for herself. It's therapeutic in forcing her to realize that she could easily become suicidal. She's in that headspace which could completely ruin this family. She has to apologize for that even though she's at her most vulnerable state with Schneider. The show hasn't explored much of his addiction past. But that experience allows him to be the voice of reason Penelope needs now. He can't solve her problems for her. She needs to accept that she needs these pills and probably will for the rest of her life. That's so absolutely crushing. And yet, it's through being honest about that that she can begin to mend the relationships in her life. She was so healthy and happy. She compromised that but was still rewarded with happiness and understanding on the other side. That's just so beautiful. This was a difficult episode to watch in certain places. But it finishes so strong as well. A

210. "Storage Wars"
Written by Becky Mann & Audra Sielaff and directed by Kimberly McCullough

It must have been difficult to produce an episode after the tremendous "Hello, Penelope" knowing that it simply couldn't compare. And so, the show smartly decides to go in the opposite direction with the follow-up episode. This is just a broad hijinks episode. The show has produced a number of these as well so that it doesn't stand out in the back-half of the season as things get more serious and emotional. But it also feels like filler in a weird way too. It's odd how after an episode that notes that Penelope has a problem that she can't ignore the show does an episode where Lydia is revealed to have a problem but it's treated more as a punchline. That's just weird and makes this less effective largely because of that comparison. Lydia's hoarding should be considered a serious issue. Yes, one can question how Penelope managed to not know that this apartment building had garage space for so long. But it's mostly just suppose to be pleasant that Penelope and Lydia both get what they want in the end. Penelope can move her car into that space without Lydia having to give up anything. It's all because Elena builds shelves for the stuff. It's an inventive resolution. But it also encourages this behavior with Lydia that will allow her to keep meaningless junk just because of personal significance. That's not healthy or something the family should really be encouraging right now. B

211. "Homecoming"
Written by Michelle Badillo, Caroline Levich & Debby Wolfe and directed by Pamela Fryman

This season has had less of a solid through-line than the first had with Elena's quinces. Of course, that story was only a minor piece of connective tissue for that year. The serialization this time around comes from a trio of romantic relationships - Penelope & Max, Elena & Syd, and Lydia & Dr. Berkowitz. All of those stories certainly come to an interesting head here at the kids' homecoming dance. It's so sweet and loving to see all of them develop in this way too. Penelope and Max sharing "I love you's" feels earned while still reasonably setting up the tease that hardship is coming their way due to Max's desire for kids. Elena learning to be completely honest with Syd is good and healthy for their relationship even though it's odd the show is now suggesting that she has no friends. Were Josh and Carmen the only people outside of the family performing that well-choreographed routine at her quinces last year? And finally, Lydia and Berkowitz have the conversation that returns them to the same exact position they have always been in. They are close friends who appreciate each other's company even though Lydia is reluctant to make it any more romantic than that. Overall, such a pleasant episode. Plus, it's great to see Georgia Engel get the sitcom welcome she deserves. B+

212. "Citizen Lydia"
Written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit & Dan Signer and directed by Gloria Calderón Kellett

Plenty of couples on television have broken up over a disagreement regarding kids. One wants them and the other doesn't. This disagreement was hinted at in the previous episode as possibly being the end for Penelope and Max just as they declared their love for each other. It's something Penelope immediately worries about. Everyone in her life is telling her to get pregnant. Max wants kids. Dr. Berkowitz says it's still medically possible for her. Her group therapy is telling her to live her truth and have that conversation with Max. Schneider is walking around with a baby. And Lydia is telling her to do whatever it takes to hold onto a good man. Penelope has been happy in this relationship. She doesn't want it to end. But this is still ultimately her choice. She has a life outside of this relationship. She has to contemplate what it would actually mean for herself. She has to explore these feelings personally. She has to come to a decision before she has this conversation with Max. It's just the outcome that forces them to break up. It's so difficult for her to do and for him to accept. She doesn't want to take this beautiful experience away from Max even though she can't give it to him. She is happy with the family she has. But it also produces a huge fight with Lydia who worries that her daughter will end up all alone. She doesn't want that kind of life for her. Penelope doesn't want to compromise her values for a man. And in the end, her fight with Lydia could be the last thing ever said between them. That's such a cliffhanger. It sets up what is bound to be a very emotional and difficult finale. A-

213. "Not Yet"
Written by Gloria Calderón Kellett & Mike Royce and directed by Pamela Fryman

This is one incredible finale. It left me just as speechless as "Hello, Penelope" did. The show produced some phenomenal episodes this season that really hit the audience in that personal and emotional space. The tears start flowing early on in this finale and don't let up until the very end. That's not unexpected. Lydia is in the hospital and no one in the family knows if she'll ever wake up again. Sure, there's the incredulity that the show would actually kill off Rita Moreno. But there is that brief moment where Lydia goes from the hospital bed to wearing an evening gown and is greeted by Berto that it seems like a distinct possibility. But the finale is so special long before that moment. It lays out its conceit early on. It's just a finale of monologues. Every one of the characters is alone with Lydia in this hospital room sharing stories about what she has meant in their lives. The creative team does a phenomenal job in making each story personal to the character and their relationship with Lydia while also remaining busy and funny. It's amusing to see Alex paint her nails only for Berkowitz to mess them up. It's great that Schneider is decorating to make this room her stage. It's performative in a very over-the-top way. And yet, it is just so damn effective and mesmerizing. It just sweeps the audience up in the emotions to make it heartbreaking when Berkowitz tells Lydia she's the love of his life and when Elena shares how she lost her Spanish and her connection with her abuelita in the process. It also catches the audience off guard seeing Schneider crack up as he tells the tale of Lydia supporting him in his fourth rehab stint and how that awareness of his problem helped him remain sober and build this connection with this family. And then, Penelope shows up for her turn and it's so widespread in emotion. She's angry with her mother for trying to win an argument by dying. She's sad at the prospect of losing her. She's accepting that she can carry on without her. It's a phenomenal moment for Justina Machado. It's only after all of this that that moment between Lydia and Berto happens. It's a moment that shows just how happy it would be for Lydia to be with him again. She has to resign herself to missing out on what will inevitably be big moments in Elena and Alex's lives. But she too is aware that Penelope is strong and will remain that way even after she's gone. That's what makes it so powerful when she says "not yet." There is still unfinished business. Everyone would be fine if this was the end. But Lydia is not done living quite yet. She still has to celebrate the joy of becoming an American citizen surrounded by her family. And that's such a joyous ending for the season. A