Welcome, welcome to season two of the most delightful sitcom of all time, One Day at a Time! I’ve been waiting for the return of the Alvarez family since I binged the first season last year, so let’s see where they are three months (in show-time) later.
2×01 “The Turn”
The first episode of season 2 drops us into one of the (many fantastic) running themes that carried us through the first season: the experience of brown people in America. Penelope, Lydia, Elena, and Schneider are at Alex’s baseball game, eating all the food they brought (something that will continue to happen throughout this season) and cheering loudly for Alex, who plays really well. Turns out Schneider has learned Spanish, and speaks fluently with the Spanish-speaking man who runs the snack bar while Elena looks on, stunned and angry that suddenly Schneider knows more Spanish than she does.
Elena is still playing the oppression Olympics, and later, when the family are home and she learns from them that she passes as white, she gets upset. Without going much into the specific experience of being a white-passing Latinx, the show portrays Elena getting upset but feeling better when she realized she’s still a woman and still queer, so she’s “back in.” This actually addresses something pretty complex: identity. Any identity that is generally an oppressed identity can, and I think almost always is, be a source of deep pride, self-love, and community.
I hope the show explores the intersections of Elena’s identities more. She may come across as an annoying social justice warrior, but that’s my people and I love her. Because if it annoys you, maybe you need to pay attention?
Alex, meanwhile, is angry at all the loud cheering coming from his family in the stands and huffs off to his room. Lydia suggests that he’s going through “The Turn” into a cranky teenager. But it turns out to be more than that. Alex got in trouble for hitting a kid on a field trip, but when he confesses to Penelope that it was because the kid told him to go back to Mexico, it becomes clear that Alex is experiencing racial bullying. The family bands together to talk about their experiences with racism and hash out how best to deal with it.
This episode is a little simplistic, but ultimately it can never be as nuanced as race and racism are, because it’s a sitcom. But that doesn’t really matter, in my opinion, because what it does do is show us a really realistic situation in which a white dude at an ice cream shop tells Penelope that she and her family are being too loud and that there are other customers to think of. Her immediate response of “Are you the owner of this establishment?” followed by a pretty great badass-lady speech that doesn’t just paint her as a fantastic human, but more importantly, lays bare everything wrong with the guy’s comment. Penelope 2020.
Also, she sums it up perfectly with this: “If you get angry, they win. If you don’t get angry, they also win—it’s complicated.”
In this episode, Elena prepares to protest what she thinks is the inevitable rejection of her new GSA by her school’s Catholic administration, while Penelope struggles to keep her head above water with her family, job, and schoolwork. Much to Elena’s chagrin, the school is very supportive of the GSA and even gives her a snack budget, so she goes to a Lesbians Against Fracking protest instead (also a worthy cause). Elena has a lovely and heartbreaking moment with Penelope, in which she confesses how much it hurts that even her Catholic school can be supportive of queerness while her own father can’t. Not gonna lie, I cried.
Meanwhile, Penelope is exhausted and frustrated at her inability to make good grades. Schneider offers to help her via his new obsession: he’s now a spin instructor, and has become obsessed with spinning. He claims if she exercises while she studies, she’ll remember everything better. She feels good about it at the time, but nearly fails her test anyway. When she finally confesses to her family that she’s not doing well in school, and she’s going to give up for now, they say they support her, but can tell it’s not what she really wants. So they all agree to pitch in their time and effort to lighten her load while giving her space and quiet to study.
This family! They are a lot nicer to each other than a lot of families. I love them.
2×03 “To Zir, With Love”
It’s the queerest episode yet! Elena and her squad of gender- and sexuality-diverse friends prepare for an adorably misguided protest outside a video game store because the latest version of a game they like only had two nonbinary character choices when they were promised three. (This episode rang true to me since I’d just had a conversation with a kid who was upset over lack of gender diversity in video games, so the future is brighter, I’d say).
Elena is clearly smitten with Dani, to the point where Lydia and Alex decide to give her pointers on flirting in order to help her embarrass herself less. I really love this. After Elena’s coming out arc last season, her family doesn’t act weirded out by her attraction to girls, or even the very specific protests she constantly wants to go to. They may roll their eyes, but it’s not because she’s gay, it’s because she’s being an overenthusiastic teenager. And they don’t attack her for it; they still love and respect her, and support her for who she is.
Anyway, turns out Dani has a girlfriend, and Elena is crushed. But who should pop up but Elena’s other friend Syd, who definitely has a crush on her. Elena is definitely into it, and I look forward to seeing where this goes. I have a feeling it’s going to get real cute.
Meanwhile, Penelope runs into a very tall, very muscular EMT at the emergency room where she’s doing a round for school. Turns out they served in Afghanistan together. His name is Max and he seems a little too perfect but I’ll go with it. They end up having sex and Penelope has a lot of complicated feelings about it, namely that she doesn’t want what Schneider calls a “junk buddy” but she also doesn’t have time to date anyone. She explains this dilemma to Max, and they settle on dating for 45 minutes at a time.
This episode finds Lydia having tripped over the roots of a tree that had grown out of the sidewalk, and the metaphor stretches from there. We learn a lot about Lydia’s roots, as she keeps avoiding Elena’s pestering to vote in the local election. Eventually, she cracks and confesses that she’s not a citizen. She gives a heartbreaking monologue about not being able to let go of her Cuban citizenship, because of the emotional ties she has to Cuba.
This is one of my favorite Lydia moments so far in the series, and she has a lot of great moments. It’s really moving. Eventually, though, she decides she’ll take the exam to become a citizen.
Elena spends this episode preaching on the importance of voting in local elections, which indeed is very important, and generally being her unapologetic self. Penelope carries on the theme of bringing your own food everywhere by teaching Alex how to sneak literally the most food into movie theaters. This is kind of a weird storyline. It’s funny, but so random. Also they go to the movies like 4 times in a week? Doesn’t he have school? At least it’s a good bonding opportunity for mother and son.
Overall, I’m calling this a strong season so far! Stay tuned for episodes 5-7…