“I had just landed in Spain. I was in an immigration line — and you’re not supposed to be using your phone there. I couldn’t scream or anything,” One Day at a TIme’s Isabella Gomez told Refinery29 from her show’s Los Angeles sound stage just before COVID-19 panic swept the nation in full force. “I was like, Oh my God!” In an era that consistently feels vaguely dystopian, Gomez, who plays nerdy teen Elena Alvarez, could easily be describing some terrible turn of events. But she’s not. She’s recalling the moment she found out her fan-favorite sitcom was resurrected from the Netflix dead.
In March 2019, the beloved, Latinx-led Norman Lear reboot — which is co-created by Cuban-American writer Gloria Calderon-Kellet and feels like a tender, warm hug — was cancelled by its original home of Netflix. In June 2019, One Day was saved by CBS-owned comedy network Pop TV, which broke out when its flagship series Schitt’s Creek arrived… on Netflix. The Pop pick-up made One Day the first-ever Netflix show to be saved by a traditional linear network (it’s usually the other way around, à la You, which moved from Lifetime to Netflix after its first season). By January 2020, about 16 full months after filming wrapped on season 3, One Day was back in production in the same place (the Sony Pictures studio lot in Culver City) on a different stage. On Tuesday, March 24, the newly minted Pop series about the highs and lows of a working class Cuban-American family will be back on the air (and Pop's streaming app).
Gomez’s TV mom Justina Machado, who plays military veteran and nurse Penelope Alvarez, is still stunned by the whirlwind ride. “I don’t even remember how it happened,” Machado later said from set on the sunny February day. She was perched in one of the seats One Day’s live studio audience usually sits in during filming. “I just remember it happened. It was really weird. It went from, No, no, no. Maybe. No, no, no. to all of a sudden, Hey! We’re doing this.”
Now One Day’s actors are marveling at how their rare comedy made streaming-to-cable history — thanks in large part to a much-deserved social media outcry over its premature cancelation — and preparing for a brand new life on Pop.
“You can always feel when a show does not have a bright future ahead of itself. There’s usually writing on the wall at some point,” Todd Grinnell — aka lovable landlord Schneider — said on set, flanked by co-star Stephen Tobolowsky (aka Dr. Leslie Berkowitz). “With this one, when it got cancelled, we were all a little heart broken. But at the same time also I was filled with complete faith that it would find a new home. Because I knew that we had a lot more stories to tell. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t over — it couldn’t be.”
The cast offered up a couple of different reasons why One Day has a fanbase so dedicated the comedy simply couldn’t be killed. Grinnell called the unconditional loving embrace of the Alvarez family “relatable and aspirational.” Tobolowsky, whose Dr. Berkowitz is the platonic pal of Alvarez matriarch Lydia (Oscar-winner/national treasure Rita Moreno), credited One Day’s international fanbase (“I’ve been all over the world … people love this show”) and unshakable honesty. “This show is not about where you are; it’s about the struggle of where you’re going,” he said. “The reason you cry is because you recognize the truth of it. If you felt like the writers were lying to you about something, then you wouldn’t.” Machado described the Latinx-led series — which allows its characters to be defined by their mental health journeys, sexualities, and triumphs as much as their heritage — as “an everyone story” rather than a Latinx-only one.
“I have a lot of people who will come up to me and they’ll say, I relate. I love your show, and I’m not Cuban,” the Chicago-born Puerto Rican actress said. “I’m like, I’m not Cuban either. It’s a story we all can relate to, no matter where you’re from. It’s an immigrant story. It’s a universal story about love, no matter the ethnicity.”
It’s a universal story about love, no matter the ethnicity.
The One Day crew is taking that same open-hearted energy into their upcoming debut on Pop, which is officially running as the sitcom’s fourth season, rather than its first (you can still stream the previous 39 episodes on Netflix).
“I want them to know how much love is behind this show,” Machado said when asked what primer fans need to re-enter the Alvarez’s world. “I want them to be proud of this show. Because we’re really proud of everything this show represents and everyone it represents.”
Representation is immediately an important theme in One Day’s 2020 premiere, “Checking Boxes.” The episode’s titular “boxes” belong to the timely, controversial 2020 census, which is integral to helping properly count the Latinx population in America. More accurate Latinx representation in the census leads to better representation in policy making, federal funding, and protection from discrimination for the community. “Boxes” shares those important facts in a straightforward manner while also using the information-gathering mechanics of the census to efficiently introduce possible new viewers to One Day’s characters — and remind old fans of integral plotlines.
Penny shares her major biographical details; sitcom legend Ray Romano appears; Elena gushes over her non-binary partner Syd (Sheridan Pierce); Schiender and Leslie explain their constant inclusion in the Alvarez’s lives; and Lydia makes her grand entrance.
“We always set aside at least 30 seconds for everybody to go Wooooo! They just love her,” Lydia’s portrayer, Rita Moreno, says of her character’s now-classic dramatic arrival into an episode: Tossing open the curtain of her converted bedroom and greeting her adoring public. Moreno’s first curtain-opening of season 4 was as joyous as you would expect. “It was huge. They had to snip around that [cheering] because it just went on and on,” Moreno said. “I finally just started to walk and move my lips. I wasn’t really talking, but I figured they would stop then. It was wonderful.”
While Lydia opens the new season of One Day on a high note, Moreno teases some dark clouds may be rolling in for the wildly hip grandma. “She’s going to have a religious crisis,” Moreno said. “I haven’t seen the script, so I don’t know what it’s about. She’s going to go through that because she is a very religious person in her way. The sex part somehow doesn’t count.”
At least the rest of the Alvarez clan seems to have a sunnier future. Multiple cast members tease a new boyfriend for Penny. Isabella Gomez confirms Elena and her “Syd-nificant other” are “stronger than ever,” adding of the formerly over-the-top nerdy duo, “Now they just get to be people.” Even Elena’s little brother Alex (16-year-old Marcel Ruiz, now sporting bleached locks “60% for the show, 40% for him”) is getting a mysterious new girlfriend (played by Andi Mack alum Raquel Justice).
“When something happens to [Alex] or Elena on the show, Lydia and Penelope are always very into it,” Ruiz said of the new storyline. “They always have something to say. They have to be the first ones who know and tell you what to do. Sometimes they fight themselves about that.”
Whether we’re talking Netflix or Pop TV — some things never change.