Netflix Has A Major Problem Hiding In Plain Sight — Ask One Day At A Time

Photo: courtesy of Netflix.
Netflix is often lauded as the torchbearer for the modern television revolution. For the past few years, the streaming service has released more original series than you can keep track of. Want a perfect coming-of-age comedy about teens of color? Watch On My Block. Looking to see a Latinx family juggle timeless struggles, modern crises, and so much love? Well, prepare to cry because Justina Machado is working wonders on One Day At A Time. What about a globe-hopping horny queer sci-fi extravangza practically made of orgies? Sense8 is waiting in your queue.
But there’s a catch. Despite this production frenzy, very few of Netflix’s scripted American original series make it past the third season. Everything from the critically-acclaimed Narcos to awards bait like Bloodline has been felled at that milestone. In total, there are only seven Netflix shows that have escaped the Season 3 Club curse: House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Grace And Frankie, Fuller House, and The Ranch have already released their fourth season or better. The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina has been renewed for parts 3 and 4.
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You’ll notice all seven of those series are led by a white (almost always straight) character or pairing. Netflix might love planting the seeds of radical TV inclusion, but they’ve yet to be given the chance to truly, relentlessly flourish — just ask the latest original series canceled by the content creator, critical favorite One Day At A Time. The Gloria Calderon-Kellet comedy was the latest series to prove so-called “diverse” series are barely surviving the Netflix content machine. And it was one of their best.
One Day At A Time, which premiered its third and final Netflix season in February 2019, has often been described as a variation on the phrase “Latinx-themed” since it premiered in 2017. In fact, those are the very words used in the Hollywood Reporter story confirming the Alvarez family’s story had come to an end on their original streaming home (production house Sony Pictures Television reportedly plans to shop the comedy to other outlets). But, the series isn’t “Latinx-themed” in the same way that no one would call Fuller House and The Ranch “white themed.”
Instead, the reboot of Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcom told a universal story with characters who happened to be Cuban. Latinx culture may have informed One Day’s storytelling, but it affected episodes as much as, say, The Ranch’s Colorado setting colors the Ashton Kutcher series. Rather than harp on its own Latinidad, One Day turned its focus on the vast lives of their characters. While racism and immigration hover around the Alvarezes, both the joyous and the average do as well. Mom Penny (Machado) dealt with the mundane concerns of being a single mom and veteran with various mental health issues. She worked through her depression. She went to a VA support group. She made budgets. So much of One Day At A Time is watching Penny try to compromise between the understandable whims of her teenage kids and their working class financial straits. It’s a tableau familiar to any parent, no matter their identity.
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At a time when so much of the national discourse around the Latinx community involves dark phrases like “illegal alien” and “The Wall,” One Day was unassailable proof that we’re more than that. We’re citizens. We’re war heroes. We love the opera (and boy, does living legend Rita Moreno’s Alvarez matriarch Lydia love the opera). Our young people can be sneakheards like budding ladies man Alex (Marcel Ruiz), queer nerds like his big sister Elena (Isabella Gomez), or anything in between. While a network show like Brooklyn 99 has a loving sprinkle of Latinx flavor and Vida is breaking every boundary there is on premium cable, One Day At A Time was one of the few internationally available, streaming-ready reminders the American Latinx community contains boundless multitudes (thanks to the CW’s Netflix deal, Jane The Virgin is the other).
Yet, One Day — which has a 98% Tomatometer score from critics, 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and likely comes with a shoestring budget thanks to its multicam production — now follows its most tradition-bucking brethren to the grave. In May 2017, Netflix canceled the Bronx-set The Get Down, which was filled with Black and brown faces. Even the hip hop-obsessed drama’s Australian, Oscar-nominee creator Baz Luhrmann couldn’t save it.
Since The Get Down was downsized by Netflix, the company has canceled many similarly inclusive series. In the last two years, the brand ended Emmy-nominated Seven Seconds, an anthology anchored by amazing Black women (Oscar-winner Regina King and Clare-Hope Ashitey ), Black family comedy All About the Washingtons, multicultural, sexual spectrum-bending Sense8, Everything Sucks!, a teen comedy led by a Black boy and a queer girl, Lady Dynamite, about an unapologetically weird woman over 40, and Disjointed, about an unapologetically weird woman over 60. Even crowd-pleasing comedies like Friends From College and American Vandal seem outside of this sphere… until you remember they’re led by men of color: Keegan-Michael Key and Tyler Alvarez, respectively.
Netflix may have pulled the plug on other, whiter shows, but when you look at what’s making it to the highest echelons of the streaming site (Hello, The Ranch) and what definitely is not, the pattern is undeniable. On My Block, Dear White People, and Shonda Rhimes — currently producing a 19th century series located in the Mexican state of California — you’re our only hope.
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