Apr 2, 2017

One Day at a Time (the Gay Daughter Version)

One Day at a Time (1975-1984) was one of my favorite childhood tv series: Bonnie Franklin starred as a divorced woman (unheard-of at the time) raising two teenage daughters, the rebellious Julie MacKenzie Phillips and the "good girl" Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) in Indianapolis.  Later she adopted wisecracking preteen Alex (Glenn Scarpelli).

She was aided or bedeviled by the sex-obsessed building manager Schneider (Pat Harrington) and, in later seasons, her mother (Nanette Fabray).

No gay content, but there was a lot of beefcake, as a steady stream of cute guys dated and eventually married Barbara and Julie.

I still get nostalgic when I hear:

This is it -- this is life, the one you get, so go and have a ball.
This is it -- straight ahead, and rest assured, you can't be sure at all.

 In 2017, Netflix is airing a reboot, with the same theme song. The family is now Cuban, and Penelope (Justina Alvarado), in addition to being divorced, is a military veteran -- maybe the first female veteran I've ever seen on tv.  She works for Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowski), who is also dating her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno).

No Julie, but serious teenage Elena (Isabella Gomez) is a clone of Barbara, and there's a wisecracking tween, Alex (Marcel Ruiz).

Schneider is still around (Todd Grinnell, top photo), with the porn stache and sex obsession of the original.

The beefcake is still ample, with various male friends and boyfriends parading about: Eric Nenninger (left),  Froy Gutierrez, Peter Banifaz.  Mom is quite the cougar, often being cruised by twinks like Jay Hayden (below)

And that annoying laugh track is still punctuating every sentence.

But there's a big difference: gay content.

The gay angle is the main plot arc of the season.

First Elena tells her brother that she likes girls; then she wonders if she should try sex with boys first, just to see.  She "doesn't hate" kissing boys, but decides that she prefers girls.

Ok, that storyline is insulting.  It's easy to tell if you find boys, girls, or both attractive.  You don't have to do things in order to find out.

After she tells Alex, he goes to Schneider and asks about lesbians.  Schneider is shocked: "I don't think I should tell you anything without your mother's permission."

Ok, that's just plain homophobic.  Schneider apparently believes that the phrase "some girls like girls" is much too graphic and sexually explicit for a 12-year old to hear.

Then she comes out to Grandma Lydia, who overcomes her religious bigotry in 20 seconds and asks "When is the parade?"

Penelope pretends to be ok with it, but isn't, and is upset because she's not ok with it.  She's not homophobic, exactly, but with her daughter it's different -- she wanted bonding over discussions of hot boys, prom dresses, weddings, grandchildren.  Ok, Elena can get some of those things, but it won't be the same.

Penelope's lesbian friend takes her to a gay bar for immersion therapy, where a hot guy, who happens to be straight and into her, assures her that she's not homophobic.  It just takes some time to adjust to such a profound change in what she always assumed her daughter to be.

Ok, I'm not happy with that storyline.  Penelope was entirely heteronormative, aware that gay people exist, but never considering the possibility that Elena or Alex might be gay.  But it's an interesting change of pace from the usual sitcom responses: over-the-top gung-ho support or 1950s-era abject horror.

I'll give the show a B for trying.    And for beefcake.

But a B- for that annoying laugh track.

See also: One Day at a Time

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