One Day at a Time: The Dire Need for Representation in Television

by Nara Cowing //

While Hollywood is still typically white, straight, and overall quite traditional, One Day at a Time breaks boundaries and norms, setting a model for the rest of the industry to follow. After being canceled by two networks, the show’s cast has just lost the fight to be picked up by a new network. 

This show displays an atypical family: newly single mother, Penelope Alvarez, lives with her two children, Elena and Alex, and her mother, Lydia. Many major plot points revolve around the Alvarez family’s Cuban American heritage and Lydia’s experiences immigrating to the United States as a child during the Cuban Revolution.

Another major storyline is the daughter Elena’s coming out experience. In a traditional family, coming out as a lesbian was not easy for her at first. Both Lydia and Penelope struggle to overcome and unlearn their inner prejudices while still showing their unconditional love and support for her. As one of the few prominent lesbian teenagers on prime time television, Elena is a feminist icon in her inclusivity, intersectionality, and passion for social justice. She is frequently found attending protests for a variety of issues such as climate change and discrimination of marginalized groups. 

Later in the series, the LGBTQ+ representation increases when she begins dating Syd, her non-binary “Syd-nificant other.” They are one of the even fewer non-binary characters to be represented on television. 

One Day at a Time is also unique in the variety of issues that it represents – including, but not limited to PTSD, alcoholism, verbal and physical abuse, and the difficulties that veterans experience when reintegrating into civilian life without proper federal support. 

This show means so much to millions of people. As a funny, sappy, loving family sitcom, this show tackles so many serious issues and represents so many identities while remaining light-hearted and optimistic. Viewers of One Day at a Time have flooded the cast and crew with love and support on social media. 

“This is a show I’ll always treasure. It made me feel like home for the first time since losing my mom. With this show, I got a piece of her back. Thank you. Thank you all. This show helped me dream a bigger dream than I thought I could because I saw myself on screen. Thank you all for everything” (@amycassandramtz on Instagram) 

“this show has changed my life and i will always carry everything i’ve learned thanks to these characters (and all of you beautiful humans) very close to my heart. familia para siempre” (@rhiannxns on Twitter)

Because of the vast range of identities and issues that the show covers, every member of the loyal audience was able to see some aspect of themselves. From the Alvarez kids navigating the intersection between their American and Latinx identities to Penelope struggling with depression and PTSD, there was a place of understanding for everyone.  

“#ODAAT is the first time I truly saw my culture on American TV. From Lydia’s accent to Penelope’s self-discovery and the kids’ navigation of their dual culture, the show is too important and it should stay on screen as long as possible. #SAVEODAAT” (@lairayrp on Twitter)

“I love how #ODAAT helped me realize that I do need to see the doctor and that it’s okay if I need to take something for life. So, please #SaveODAAT” (@teachermajik on Twitter)

In just four short seasons (none making it past 13 episodes), they have fought to get their show renewed two times, displaying just how much pushback there has been against diversity on television. At the same time, they have been nominated for several awards including (but not limited to) the Primetime Emmy’s, GLAAD, NAACP, Imagen Foundation, GALECA Society of LGBTQ+ Critics, People’s Choice, and Teen Choice. They’ve won several Primetime Emmy awards along with other awards recognizing both their talents as actors and producers as well as their vastly unique representation.

Despite their high ratings, the show’s average seasonal viewership of 1.3 million was not cutting it for CBS. According to Variety, many of the lead-in and follow-up shows airing in the surrounding time slots grossed around 3 million viewers. 

As of December 8th, One Day at a Time was officially discontinued. The show’s entire cast was passionate about fighting to get the show renewed during the two times it has been canceled, raising morale and support on social media as well as pitching the show to several producers. 

Netflix, the show’s original network, has a track record of canceling shows with LGBTQ+ representation after very few seasons. Shows like Everything Sucks!, I Am Not Okay With This, The Get Down, The Society, and Sense8 are just five of the several other queer shows that Netflix has canceled after fewer than two seasons. 

Why do shows like Stranger Things or 13 Reasons Why continue to receive renewals while Netflix refuses to support successful shows that are predominantly queer and BIPOC? 13 Reasons Why, as one example, gathered an overall average rating of 35% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.6/10 in IMDb. Every previously mentioned LGBTQ+ show has a nearly equal or higher rating on both platforms. One Day at a Time scored significantly higher with a whopping 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.2/10 on IMDb. 

What is Netflix so scared of? Is it of deviating from the norm? Is it of attracting viewers that will see characters on television who look more like themselves than the cookie-cutter skinny, white protagonists? 

In the real world, LGBTQ+ people and BIPOC aren’t simply side characters or comic relief. Media should not stray away from representing everyone rather than one type of person. Representation matters; it inspires and saves lives.