Sitcoms can be serious too: One Day at a Time…

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Comedy is such a difficult feat at the best of times. You can have a solid ensemble cast and a series of scenarios in which they live, act and stumble, but if the comic dialogue, action and timing is not correct and is not welcomed with the reaction you need and want, the show will suffer. Look at some of the long-running classic sitcoms to grace our screens like Friends or The Big Bang Theory – ten or more seasons, characters that live on and peek into our day-to-day conversation, I mean, there is a friends quote for almost every story or situation. Then you have shows like Baby Daddy and New Girl, which are hilarious in their own rights, but have not had the same effect, the former having been cancelled a few episodes before its current season is to end, and the latter to end after its limited episode seventh season to air later in the year. Comedy is tough to execute, you must have the right characterization, the right scenarios, and most important of all, the consistency to pull it off throughout the season, and future seasons it may or may not have.

So when you throw in some hard-hitting socio-cultural content in the mix, writers have got to have some serious skill to keep audiences attracted to this new age sitcom, or they are just brave and hopeful in their experimentations with a classic form of television. One Day At A Time pushes the boundaries with this classic television show remade and revamped with a fiery Cuban family of three generations; grandmother, mother, and two kids. With jokes, gags and one-liners welcoming audiences into the crazy home of a traditional catholic Cuban abuela, a spunky ex-army turned nurse mother, her 21st century cause of the world ringleader daughter and apple of everyone’s eye tweener son, the show then snatches us away from the standard light heartedness of comedy by lulling us into a false sense of security and dropping huge emotional monologues on us like a tonne of bricks. And it sure as hell grips you.

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Anecdotes about the army, PTSD, religion and God, sexuality, absentee father, and the big ones; love and family, take us on journeys with the characters that you would ditch for a slapstick comic scene in the typical sitcom. This show does funny, jumps to serious and then spins us back in a tizzy of cackling laughter all in the space of thirty minutes. And in all of that we get widespread character profiles, heaps of cultural context into one nook of the vast Latin community, Cuba in particular, and the addressing of important themes and issues being tackled in todays real world. You hear one-liners and jokes in 80s/90s sitcoms, sometimes even the current ones, where significant issues like gender power roles, homosexuality and race/ethnicity labeled or even stigmatized as the subsequent ‘butt.’ Eric were always teased about his role in his relationship with Donna in That 70s Show, Chandler in Friends was always anxious about being assumed gay, and Raj in The Big Bang Theory experiences the ill-advised ‘brown dude’ jokes. Now we all know comedy is not meant to be taken seriously, the comic content is not a reflection of society’s views and/or actions, yet it is refreshing to see a group of writers poking fun at the abuela’s accent, or the daughters goth best friend, or even the extensive topic of religion and then stripping it all back to touch upon the other side to these social, cultural and political matters. Some may love, some may hate it, some may say it’s a fresh outlook of comedy, some may say if I wanted serious TV I would’ve watched Line of Duty, but you can’t please everybody, and if you tried, you will be stuck in writing and development stages until the end of time. It is a different side to comedy, sometimes serious, but it still abides by the primary function – being funny.

So to review, One Day at a Time is new age sitcom, a drama for the family, and a new take on an ever-growing, soon-to-be crowded industry predicated on form and genre. So they turn the tables and instead of having another dark fantasy, or crime drama (which are still awesome) they give us a tough, gritty, real comedy show, and a damn simple one at that. After all it is a show about a family merely going about their day-to-day business, you don’t need to look farther than the title to see that much. It gives us well thought out characterisations, and interesting scenarios and situations, but will they be able to keep a hold of them through to the second season? The real test is not how the first season is received, but how they can top it with the second, third, fourth and so on and so forth, if they are lucky enough to see an abundance of network renewals.

Here’s hoping because the first season had me from the get go.

Rita Moreno

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