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Justina Machado Says ODAAT is a Universal Story about Family

One Day at a Time is a beloved sitcom centered around a Cuban-American family that deals with real-life issues including PTSD and queer identity. It’s that fine balance between heartwarming moments and true-life hardships sprinkled with quirky humor that helped revive the show after Netflix canceled it. ODAAT premieres tonight on PopTV after airing for three seasons and developing a passionate fanbase devoted to the Alvarez troupe made up of single mom, Penelope, her two kids Alex and Elena, and her meddling mother Lydia. It was those fanatical viewers that took to social media using #saveODAAT to help the show get picked up for a fourth season at cable network PopTV. “Without the fans, there would be no new season, so from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you. We love you for always being there and this truly couldn’t have been done without you all,” Justina Machado (Penelope) tells HipLatina.

According to a press release, this season Penelope explores a surprising new relationship which she’s seemingly discussing in the trailer when she mentions that Alex walked in on her in what seems to be an intimate moment. In previous seasons Penelope hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to romance and this season Lydia, played by the iconic EGOT winner Rita Moreno, signs her up for Tinder, but through it all, she’s remained a pillar of strength and the heart of the family. Even when coping with her anxiety and PTSD, Machado beautifully captures Penelope’s vulnerability, perseverance, and humor and this season Machado, 47, hints at Penelope’s evolution: “It’s been a fun journey, she’s coming into a different version of [herself],” adding, “I love Penelope, everything about her excites me. How she lives, how she loves and how she perseveres.”

It is that foundation of strength and perseverance that allows her to tackle the growing pains of her two children as a single mom, particularly evident in the journey she’s had with Elena (Isabella Gomez) who came out as gay on season 1 and now has a gender non-binary partner. This very contemporary lifestyle is interspersed with traditional Latinx family dynamics like how Alex, being the “man of the house” gets away with basically everything with Lydia. The show’s cultural authenticity is thanks to Gloria Calderón Kellett, the Cuban-American co-creator who joined forces with Mike Royce to adapt the 1970s classic with Norman Lear as executive producer.

“I think there has been real starvation of representation in many communities of color, not just Latinx, and it’s important to not feel that you’re erased from the American narrative. It’s important for people to see themselves in some capacity represented,” Calderón Kellett told NPR. “I think what people responded to in our show was that ultimately, it’s about love and acceptance.”

Considering the love she gets from the live audience, there’s also no denying that another highly appealing aspect of the show is Moreno’s over the top, endearing performance. This season she experiences a religious crisis and reveals the details of her surprise trip to Cuba with Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky). Lydia is both a traditional Latina grandma – doting, religious, and supportive – but she’s also modern, embracing her sexuality and being unabashedly vain. “I’m a very unvain person. She thinks she’s God’s gift to men, for starters, no matter what their ages, including her grandson, for Pete’s sake,” Moreno told Hollywood Life. “She’s outrageously sexual. I’m convinced this woman would flirt with a fence post. Her vanity is just delicious to play. I love playing her vanity, it’s so unlike me, but it’s so marvelous to play that.” It’s Lydia that Machado feels most connected with this season saying, “Penelope’s babies are growing up and she’s holding on, just like Lydia.”

The 13-episode run will also dive into relationships for both Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the privileged yet woke white landlord who began dating  Avery (India de Beaufort) during the last season and it’s now getting more serious, and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) who is starting to date. With a season that’s centered around romance of all kinds, Machado aptly describes it as “a breath of fresh air. It’s all about love, laughter, and family.”

Machado, like Moreno, is of Puerto Rican descent and the Alvarez family is passionately Cuban but it’s their universality that helps the show transcend cultures. With Latinx shows so few and far between and cancellation more common than not,  ODAAT’s revival is a testament to its talented cast, powerful storylines, and inclusive narrative. It’s also a show that can feel like a warm hug for the Latinx community during a political climate that has been hard on immigrants in particular and racist and ignorant narratives run rampant.

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“I feel like we need a lot more shows that represent Latinx families out there, but it’s happening. One Day at a Time is meaningful because it’s a universal story about love, family, immigrants, Americans, Latinos, etc. It’s a story that changes the narrative that is out there,” Machado says. “The narrative that we are second class citizens, that we just got here, that we have accents, and that we are all not worthy of true storytelling. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to be Cuban or Latinx to relate to One Day at a Time, because it’s just so damn relatable. It’s simply great storytelling.”

Watch the premiere today at 9:30/8:30c on Pop TV. available through cable and Roku.