I’m not going to lie, when I found out that I was supposed to watch a sitcom for last weekend’s homework I rolled my eyes. I can’t count the times I’ve cringed watching CBS’s The Big Bang Theory or had to politely fake-chuckle in order to not offend a room full of Friends fans (Seinfeld is better). See, I was in the camp that thought that the multi-camera sitcom was a thing of the past and without merit today as shows like Modern Family and Parks and Rec had managed to do just fine by shedding the format. Mockumentary, to me, seemed like the new standard in sitcom comedy and I so began to treat all sitcoms that stuck to the old formula as beneath. Kind of pretentious, I know. Thankfully, that all changed for me this weekend. Although, I don’t think I’ll be tuning in for anymore of Sheldon’s antics.
So there I was, firing up an episode of One Day at a Time, dreading the fact that I had to watch six hours of a format that I thought had lost any type of cultural relevancy. What I got instead was a television program that won me over in the first 10 minutes and packed with well-earned sentimentality. I would be lying if I said that Rita Moreno’s audacious entrance for the show didn’t do something for me as the audience cheered and whooped in excitement. For the first time in awhile, my internalized pretensions seemed to melt away. It really did feel like I was a part of something bigger and more immediate than myself. I believe the knowing that One Day at a Time was taped in front a live studio audience had much to do with this. To hear an audience react to an actor’s performance in the privacy of your own living room feels strikingly communal; almost dissonantly so. Where else do you hear the reactions of complete strangers than the movie theater? In a sad way, I guess in a pitiful way I felt less alone, but more importantly I felt like I was witnessing something meaningful that went beyond my grievances with what I had perceived as tired format. Much how Penelope Alvarez, the show’s mother, makes do with what she has, One Day at a Time does so with the multi-camera formula. This type of quasi-communal viewing made the laughs and drama on screen that much more immediate and this was especially with the topics this show deals with.
One Day at a Time tackles issues of the Cuban-American identity and representation, posttraumatic stress disorder, immigration, sexual identity and even gun ownership. Each episode is marked by quick and witty dialogue as characters send a volley of quips back and forth. It was the initial humor that immediately grabbed me, even with how cautious I approached the show, ready to criticize any punch line I deemed beneath my standards. But the show’s familial warmness and sentiment really kept me engaged. The onscreen chemistry felt real to me and I began to care immensely about the Alvarez’s (and Schneider too).
I felt that the show’s use of topical issues in an outdated format was particularly subversive and something that I wasn’t prepared for. While other shows like This is Us have been praised for its handling of controversial topics, the use multi-camera format lends itself to something else. I believe this is empathy itself. To know that you’re not the only one listening and seeing something onscreen is powerful, perhaps beyond what I am capable of capturing with words. It’s a sensation I wasn’t expecting to experience this weekend when I sat down on the couch and I like to think I’m not the only person to feel this way. It’s hard to not laugh along after a cheesy quip when an entire room erupts, but when you hear that same room stunned in silence it’s another feeling altogether.
After watching the first six episodes of One Day at a Time, I felt that I had no other choice but to continue into the second season and I’m glad I did. If someone like me can grow to love a format they loathed, imagine what else a charismatic family can do for a country of viewers.