“One Day at a Time” and a tale of coming out
This post contains spoilers of the Netflix series One Day at a Time. If you haven’t watched the whole series, think twice before going on with the reading.
Netflix has several forward-thinking series in its catalog, and one of the best of them all is One Day at a Time, the reboot of a successful 1970s sitcom. The reboot got only the original’s premise and developed a gallery of great characters around it, filling the episodes with modern issues and on-point discussions.
On the 8th episode of season one Elena (Isabella Gomez), the oldest child of recently-divorced former-army nurse Penelope (Justina Machado) tells her younger brother Alex (Marcel Ruiz) that she likes girls. At this moment she is still confused and is not sure if she is lesbian or bisexual. At the same episode Alex tells Elena’s “secret” to their neighbor — and the only quirky male figure around — Schneider (Todd Grinnell).
Two episodes later, Elena comes out for her mother. On the following episode, she tells her grandmother Lydia (Rita Moreno) she’s a lesbian. On the season finale, she comes out to her father, whom she hasn’t met in a year. The outcomes are mixed.
Penelope tries to be supportive, but has trouble accepting her daughter. Lydia, who everybody thought would receive the news badly because of her strong Catholic faith, accepts it well, and Victor doesn’t accept at all.
Lydia has the most interesting speech about accepting her granddaughter. Although humorous — after all, this is a comedy series — it is deep. Lydia remembers what Pope Francis once said about accepting homosexuals and, since the Pope is the link between God and us, it means that God also wants the world to accept and embrace queer people. There is even more: Lydia accepts Elena as she is because she loves Elena.
And that’s the most important lesson from the first season of the series. We aren’t born knowing the dos and don’ts of a religion: we learn it with time, we are taught these things by our family. And we’re not born knowing how to hate the different. We are only born knowing how to love. And sometimes that’s all we need: to forget everything we ever learned, follow our instinct and just love.
Penelope’s difficulty is later discovered to be caused by her expectations about Elena. Penelope dreamed about trading confidences and talking about boyfriends with her only daughter. Of course she still can do it with her, and they indeed talk about Penelope’s new date later in the same episode. This reminds us how the expectations the parents create for their children can become a burden for both kids and parents.
Victor is, in the last episode of season one, a total asshole regarding Elena’s sexuality. First he says the stupid “it’s just a phase” phrase. Then he tells her she must be confused and will eventually forget this “idea”. And then he goes on to blame Penelope, the single mother, because she “left this happen”. He even goes on as far to say that “being gay is on fashion now, that’s why Elena decided she wanted to be gay”. Penelope answers: “sure, she chose lots of bullying and prejudice because it’s fashionable!”.
Many people have criticized the fact that Elena was built as a huge stereotype: she is the feminist nerd who fights for social justice AND is a lesbian. I’d like to disagree. If Elena wasn’t a feminist and a smart woman she wouldn’t have come out in her teen years. She would have waited until she left home to come out, or worse: because she came from a religious family, she could have punished herself for being different, for thinking about “sin”. If she wasn’t enlightened and bright, she wouldn’t have accepted herself, and wouldn’t be able to come out to seek the acceptance of her loved ones.
One Day at a Time brings much deeper discussions than we expect when we sit down to watch the series. Be prepared, maybe with a box of tissues, to watch the 13-episode first season. Oh, and with an open mind, too.