Roush Review: 'One Day at a Time' Season 3 Blends Traditional Sitcom With a 21st-Century Attitude
Tough love can be a riot, when administered with the warmth and spirit of Penelope Alvarez (the fabulously appealing Justina Machado), a Cuban-American single mom in L.A. battle-scarred by actual war and the daily challenges of family life. Upon discovering her son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) has a private "finsta" Instagram account — like Penelope, such a thing was news to me — she erupts: "Private?! Pfft. There's no privacy here. This house is a dictatorship."
Thankfully, Penelope is a benevolent ruler, even when she grounds young Alex (for an illicit vaping incident) inside their Echo Park apartment for most of One Day at a Time's delightful and poignant third season. There are worse places to hang for 13 episodes, which blend the cornball plots and broad rhythms of a traditional sitcom with a distinctly 21st-century attitude worthy of the show's legendary executive producer, Norman Lear. (This remake of Lear's 1970s–'80s classic is a robust reinvention.)
Having fought depression in past seasons, Penelope now copes with crippling anxiety as she studies for board exams to achieve her goal of becoming a licensed nurse practitioner. Venting to her colorful support group of fellow female military veterans, led by original One Day alum Mackenzie Phillips, she explains: "I have these life-changing tests coming up, a sexually active teenage daughter [Isabella Gomez as openly gay nerd and activist Elena], a fragile elderly mother [amazing Rita Moreno as spitfire abuela Lydia] and a son doing drugs — but I think I'm handling it well." She's not sure she believes that, but at least she's not going it alone.
Besides the hilarious Lydia, who never met a curtain that couldn't be used for a grand entrance, there's man-child Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the trust-fund landlord who wants only to become an honorary Alvarez. (When you meet Alan Ruck as his venal father, you'll understand why.) Penelope's supportive boss, Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky), is the ultimate milquetoast, yet undaunted in his wooing of the flamboyant Lydia, helping her cross items off her "bouquet" list.
"Don't quit before the miracle happens," Schneider urges Penelope after one of her panic attacks. And what could be more miraculous than One Day at a Time: funny, touching and comforting in its relevance for these fractious times.
One Day at a Time, Season 3 Premiere, Friday, February 8, Netflix