American TV legend Norman Lear’s new Netflix show, sitcom reboot One Day at a Time, has a Latin flavour

The producer who gave us Archie Bunker is back, aged 94, with an update of groundbreaking1970s sitcom that finds universal humour in story lines about family life, bigotry, sexism and mental health

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 12:06pm

Rita Moreno explains the immediate allure of joining Netflix’s update of the 1970s sitcom One Day at a Time, which goes live today.

“Two words: Norman Lear,” the Oscar winner says, recalling how the TV legend, known for producing groundbreaking hits such as All in the Family, Maude and Good Times, recruited her for a new version of the comedy, which ran on the CBS channel in the United States from 1975 to 1984.

“He said, ‘I want you in my sitcom.’ I said, ‘OK.’ And then I said, ‘What is it?’ “ Moreno says. ”What? I’m not going to be interested in a Norman Lear project? Please!”

The original One Day, which starred Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Pat Harrington Jr., focused on a divorced mum – unusual for TV at the time – and two daughters living in the American city of Indianapolis. The new version centres on three generations of a Cuban-American family in Los Angeles.

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Lear, 94, sees universal humour in the family’s doings, which include Cuban references and traditions and snippets of Spanish that will be easy to understand in context. “I emphasise the common humanity. To laugh at them and live with them for a half hour is to share in their humanity.”

Moreno, a native of the US Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico, says the focus on a Latino family, a group more common in the real world than on TV, “is very relevant to our times. And now that we’re going into a new [presidential] administration, I think it’s going to be even more relevant.”

Different generations have their own perspectives. Grandmother Lydia (Moreno) is a traditionalist; her daughter, Penelope (Justina Machado), is the practical breadwinner who’s separated from her husband, a fellow military veteran who works in private security in the Middle East; and Penelope’s teenaged daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) is devoted to progressive causes. (Penelope also has a young son, Alex, played by Marcel Ruiz).

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The only name that survives from the original series is building superintendent Schneider (Todd Grinnell), a younger, more privileged version who means well but often betrays his ignorance.

Executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett, who oversees the show with Mike Royce, says it has “the DNA of the original: a very strong woman trying her best to raise her family the best she can — given the circumstances.”

Like the original, the new series tackles uncomfortable issues, including bigotry and sexism, but Calderon Kellett says “1975 sexism is different than 2016 sexism. It was fun to have the modern version of that conversation.” (Penelope argues with her physician boss about equal pay.)

Lear worked with the writers, spoke to the studio audience before tapings and tapped Cuban-American music legend Gloria Estefan to sing a new version of the opening theme.

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He wanted Day to explore the issues facing veterans, another group often neglected in scripted TV. Other weighty plots: Penelope is taking medication for depression, and her estranged husband is dealing with more serious mental-health issues.

But Lear says there’s almost always room for humour, even in difficult situations, “because the foolishness of the human condition is a constant. It doesn’t go away.”