Abigail Fenton 27th March 2019
It’s been almost two weeks since yet another one of Netflix’s unsung heroes was cancelled.
If you haven’t heard of it — and you may well not have done — One Day at a Time is a sharp, funny sitcom about a Cuban-American family. It centres on newly-separated former military mum Penelope (Justine Machado) who is learning to navigate single parenthood with the help of her devout Catholic mother Lydia (Rita Moreno).
Her teen daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) is what is commonly known as a “social justice warrior”, while her slightly younger son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) is popular and vain but good-hearted.
The reboot of Norman Lear’s classic CBS show of the same name has achieved critical acclaim over the course of its three-season run, with journalists praising the stellar performances of its lead actors, its “surfeit of heart”, and how it has managed to “flip the script” with a “unique, realistic and refreshing” take on various social issues. It has earned a loyal fanbase and received multiple accolades, including Primetime Emmy and Critics Choice nominations, as well as a Television Academy Honour.
Unfortunately, Netflix announced earlier this month that the show hasn’t been doing well enough in ratings to justify a renewal.
It’s actually rather disingenuous of Netflix to blame One Day at a Time’s cancellation on its numbers. What it isn’t acknowledging is just how little effort it made to promote the show. In fact, most of the backlash from fans on social media has centered around this issue.
In over three years, not once did Netflix invest in billboards or YouTube advertising for Once Day at a Time. Nor did it even post about it on its official social media channels. As one Twitter user noted, Netflix actually tweeted about cancelling One Day at a Time more than it did to promote it — four tweets to zero. It was never chosen for Netflix’s main banner spot and, mind-bogglingly, never included on the Netflix Originals main selection screen.
It’s a recurring theme. Fans of sci-fi Sense8 and hip-hop musical The Get Down have repeatedly criticised Netflix for failing to promote either to any visible degree, despite them being two of the most expensive shows in TV history. (Sense8 cost $9m per episode, while The Get Down cost $11m per episode). Netflix didn’t see the point in advertising these shows, which were compromised of diverse casts and addressed issues of politics, indentity, gender and sexuality.
When it cancelled them both in 2017, it said they were “too expensive” for the amount of people watching. A petition with over one million signatures was successful in bringing Sense8 back, but it was only for a one-off special to wrap up loose ends.
No, One Day at a Time is not the first of Netflix’s most progressive original series’ to receive this treatment. It’s just the latest in a long line. In fact, it’s getting pretty exhausting, at this point, to watch Netflix pat itself on the back for “providing” diverse content, knowing it will do nothing to market it to its casual viewers, then cancel it and stick the blame on the general public for not watching something they were unaware existed.
It’s exhausting to watch Netflix pat itself on the back for ‘providing’ diverse content, knowing it will do nothing to market it, then cancel it and stick the blame on the general public
In a few months, Netflix will release a show called Coming Out. It’s the story of a disabled gay man, who is being played by a disabled gay actor. So far, Netflix has given it — you guessed it — zero promotion. Zilch. Nada.
One Day at a Time is a rather unusual case, though, as Netflix doesn’t generally announce cancellations via Twitter, nor does it often explain its decisions, or share meaningless reassurances that minorities’ stories matter to it after consistently demonstrating that they clearly don’t.
“The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories,” Netflix says. What it really wants is recognition for delivering diverse content, without actually having to deliver it. After all, if it throws hundreds of thousands of dollars at shows like Sense8 and The Get Down, no can say it doesn’t care — even if it isn’t willing to do anything to get people to watch them. Since it ran One Day at a Time to begin with, no one can say it’s not doing its part.
It’s transparent. But what’s particularly infuriating is that you can’t watch a single YouTube video without seeing a trailer for season two of 13 Reasons Why – a show that has been linked to increased suicide attempts because its writers chose to ignore media guidelines set by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) and the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). Google searches of specific suicide methods spiked after the series’ release, and a survey of at-risk youths found half had seen at least one episode of the show.
Who’s to say why Netflix is happy to spend the big bucks promoting harmful shows like 13 Reasons Why but chooses to neglect shows that, on top of just being good, have a positive social impact. Maybe it thinks people of colour and members of the LGBT community will be seeking out progressive TV themselves. More likely, it assumes stories like One Day at a Time aren’t universal (read: white, straight) enough to do big numbers, so promoting them would be a waste of money — a stupid self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. Either way, it’s demoralising and, honestly, just bad business.
Never mind that Netflix refuses to release actual viewing figures. Within minutes of the streaming giant announcing One Day at a Time had been cancelled, #SaveODAAT began trending worldwide on Twitter. It quickly hit the number one spot and stayed there all day. High-profile stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda spearheaded an army of fans outraged at the network’s decision — millions of them. Yet there weren’t enough people watching the show? According to Deadline, its viewers increased season-on-season. If it wasn’t the breakout hit Netflix wanted it to be, whose fault is that?
There’s a strong parallel between One Day at a Time and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which was picked up by NBC almost as soon as Fox axed it last year. Both cancellations triggered a social media campaign for them to be picked up elsewhere. Both received strong support from vocal celeb viewers. (Miranda has sublime taste.) They’re also both shows that have been praised for their representation. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that the beloved cop comedy also suffered from a lack of promo.
One Day at a Time isn’t just a show centred on the Cuban Alvarez family. It’s one populated by people of varied races and shades, not to mention genders, sexualities and religions. It features characters of Mexican and other Latin origins, as well as black women. It has not one but three lesbian characters. It is one of a microscopic number of shows (roughly 15) to ever have a non-binary character. People are Catholic, Jewish, agnostic and atheist. As Gloria Estefan reminds us over its title sequence: “This is life.” If there’s any tokenism at all, it is, delightfully building manager Schneider, a straight white man, who can be considered the “other”.
It’s also one of just a handful of shows in recent years to not only address the harrowing political hellscape we currently live in but, somehow, always leave its viewers feeling sanguine despite it. The family’s status as brown, working-class, queer, mentally ill immigrants lends itself to ample social commentary in every episode — because bigotry and oppression aren’t just occasional talking points; they’re the reality of some people’s everyday lives. But it is always warm, tender and optimistic.
While Penelope and her family do deal with internal issues, conflict usually arises from the outside world, rather than between the main set of characters. When this isn’t the case, they take responsibility, learn and grow. It is, ultimately, a show about good people who make each other better because of their differences — not in spite of them — and their genuine desire to do right by each other and treat each other with respect.
Sitcoms have relied on characters mistreating each other for laughs — think Seinfeld, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory — for so long that it’s a breath of fresh air when One Day at a Time doesn’t. It almost feels like an appendage to the Mike Schur-verse, which includes Parks and Recreation and The Good Place alongside Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in that it is completely uncynical and uncommonly decent.
It’s also just funny. Like, inexplicably fucking funny. If you’ve never witnessed an old Cuban woman attempt to buy Yeezys for her grandson while mistakenly referring to them as “Jesus shoes”, you have no idea what you’re missing out on.
One Day at a Time deals in the idea that there are good people out there fighting battles worth fighting
In an age of grimdark fantasy, in which the most popular shows on TV churn out little but voyeuristic violence, misogynistic sexual exploitation and “realistic” death and misery, One Day at a Time represents something else. It, like the Schur-verse before it, deals in the idea that there are good people out there fighting battles worth fighting. What’s more, it tells us they are winnable. In short, it represents hope.
One Day at a Time is proof you can make a show for an under-served audience, that everybody can connect to — its loyal fanbase and critical success are evidence of it. It’s proof you can address subjects such as racism, homophobia, mental illness, misogyny, addiction and the hypocrisy of gun culture, while ultimately still creating a comedy and still uplifting people. It is the funniest show that will ever make you cry, and it can send you careening from one into the other in a matter of seconds. And in the dystopian era of Trump and Piers Morgan’s continued existence, people need it.
It’s remarkable how well Brooklyn Nine-Nine has done in its new home. Season six opened to one-and-a-half million more viewers than its season five premiere, and though its numbers have since declined — which is almost always the case over the course of a season — it’s still going stronger than this time last year. It’s likely the #SaveB99 campaign during its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cancellation drummed up a bit of publicity. However, NBC has also done more to promote it than Fox ever did. It’s amazing what can happen when a show is in the hands of a network that values it.
Netflix is your abusive ex-boyfriend who treated you like crap, and no longer wants you but doesn’t want anyone else to have you either
Unfortunately, Netflix has so far blocked efforts to revive One Day at a Time elsewhere. Deadline reports a standard clause in deals for virtually all its original series prevents them from being picked up by other streaming services for up to three years — this is probably why Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones didn’t move to the new Disney+ platform. Netflix could choose to release One Day at a Time from the deal, but it seems unlikely at this stage. Basically, Netflix is your abusive ex-boyfriend who treated you like crap and no longer wants you but doesn’t want anyone else to have you either.
But all hope is not lost. Deadline adds that while One Day at a Time’s contract prohibits it from being picked up by streamers for three years, the window for traditional networks is just a few months — meaning it could be back by the next broadcast season.
A linear network is the last chance for One Day at a Time. ABC or NBC seem like suitable destinations, given their programming history — the former being to Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat, while the latter now owns all Schur-verse properties. As the weeks go by, its odds of surviving are getting slimmer, but show-runner Gloria Calderon Kellett isn’t giving up — and she shouldn’t.
One Day at a Time deserves to run for a long time — preferably until Once Upon a Time alum Lana Parrilla finally finds time in her busy schedule to drop by and challenge Justina Machado to a fierce battle of acting prowess, so we can finally decide who TV’s most versatile and compelling actor is. (They will tie.) Or at least until Rita Moreno is ready to retire from acting. Whichever comes first. It’s honestly a toss-up.
It deserves to go on because Moreno has won so many hearts as vibrant, larger-than-life Lydia, who still misses the country she was forced to flee at just 15. Because Machado has given such a nuanced, loving performance as Penelope, who is strong and spectacular though she struggles. Elena’s coming out story is one of the most deftly-handled ones ever told, and her happiness is not just subversive but goddamn revolutionary. Because kind, gentle Alex embodies a non-toxic masculinity little boys would really benefit from seeing.
Most of all, though, One Day at a Time deserves to go on because it clearly does resonate with people — it’s just hard to watch something you’ve never heard of.
Abigail Fenton 27th March 2019