Netflix’s ‘One Day at a Time’ a surprisingly sharp reboot

“One Day at a Time”
“One Day at a Time” Courtesy of Netflix

It’s probably safe to say hordes of people weren’t clamoring for a binge-able reboot of “One Day at a Time,” the CBS sitcom that ran from 1975 to 1984 and starred Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano, a hard-working single mother raising two teenage daughters in an Indianapolis apartment.

Addressing issues about life and love with a second-wave feminist bent, the show, developed by celebrated writer-producer Norman Lear, never quite had the cultural cachet of some of Lear’s other popular programs, including “All in the Family” and “Maude.”

Nevertheless, Netflix executives saw something enduring in the show’s premise and committed to making a 13-episode update with Lear, who is now 94 years old, serving as executive producer. On Jan. 6, audiences were introduced to the humble living room of Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), a hard-working single mother raising two children in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood.

The kids in this Cuban American family (a teenage girl and her younger brother) still crack wise. Handyman Schneider still barges in, exhibiting his trademark swagger, but now draped in hipster flannel instead of a white T-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve. Adding to the mix is Penelope’s mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), who also shares the apartment.

What’s most surprising about Netflix’s show isn’t so much its existence but how good it is, despite its reliance on a television format that looked to be in the sunset of its popularity. Make no mistake: The new “One Day” is still a traditional sitcom, complete with stagey affections, laugh track and too-bright lighting to accommodate the multi-camera set up.

But within the comfortable conceits and predicable beats emerges an undeniable freshness, largely due to the writing and acting. The three-generation setup allows for sharp commentary on a changing world. Penelope’s not only a divorced mom, she’s also a former soldier who seeks help from the VA as she struggles to pay bills, care for an aging parent and raise a daughter who is questioning her sexuality.

If all that makes the show sound too self-serious, it’s not. It’s as perky and pleasant as any good sitcom should be, with Machado and Moreno showing great skill in handling the hairpin turns of episodes that go from silly to dramatic and back.

Moreno in particular seems to revel in her role as mischievous matriarch. Watching the grandmother salsa dance as she cooks breakfast not only brings to mind Moreno’s “West Side Story” roots, it reminds us that if we don’t take pleasure in the little things in life, then what are we doing?

One Day at a Time

Streaming on Netflix