One Day at a Time's Coming Out Storyline Is a Breath of Fresh Air
Warning: The following contains spoilers from the entire first season of Netflix’s One Day at a Time reboot. If you haven’t binged all 13 episodes yet, you may want to bookmark this page and come back once you have. Proceed with caution.
Over the course of its first season, Netflix’s reboot of the classic Norman Lear sitcom One Day at a Time tackles a handful of issues facing Americans today, including immigration, sexism, and veteran’s rights, with the same sort of warmth and reasonable discussion that made the Lear model such an iconic part of TV history. But one particular issue tackled, the one wisely kept under wraps in the show’s promotional materials, rose above the rest to prove the be the beating heart of the delightful new series. We’re talking about young Elena’s coming out process, of course.
While sly references to the character’s unique personality and remarkable close relationship with best friend Carmen are made fairly early in the season, it isn’t until episode seven, when under pressure to begrudgingly find an escort to her upcoming quinceañera, that Elena (Isabella Gomez) says out loud that she might not be into guys after all. From that point on, the 15-year-old’s process of self-acceptance takes center stage for the remainder of the season.
As each family member finds out, showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellet and Mike Royce crafted reactions that are both heartwarming and realistic. Younger brother Alex (Marcel Ruiz) is confused about the specifics, but doesn’t see what the big deal is. Religious, but fiercely loyal grandma Lydia (Rita Moreno) goes from not OK to 100 percent OK in 10 second flat after recalling some wise words from the Pope. And newly single mom Penelope (Justina Machado) struggles the most, not out of homophobic fear, but out of the more reasonable concern for her child being different in a world that isn’t always so welcoming of that.
By the time Elena’s quinces comes around in the finale, and Lydia’s crafted her granddaughter the most perfect pantsuit for her grand entrance, Penelope’s struggle to wrap her head around her daughter’s sexuality is all but gone. And just in time to come to the rescue after her troubled ex-husband Victor, largely absent from the series until the final few episodes, abandons his daughter on the dance floor as she readies for the all-important father-daughter dance, unable to accept her like the rest of the family has. Watching Penelope take his place to dance with Elena, followed quickly by the rest of the family, was the perfect moment to end the season with—and an important one, too.
As evidenced by the thoughtful and tender way the storyline unfolds, the decision to make Elena a lesbian wasn’t one that was made in haste. Very early on in the process, Calderon Kellet sat Gomez and her parents down to let them in on her plans for the character.
“I wanted to sit down with them and talk to them about it,” she told E! News ahead of the show’s launch. “‘Just so you know, this is where we’re going with her character. If there’s any issues or problems with that, I need to know now. I need this to be something that you’re going to embrace and that you’re comfortable being the poster child for this.’ Because it doesn’t have enough of a voice, especially in the Latino community. We’ve never seen a 15-year-old girl come out on television before.”
And Calderon Kellet had nothing but glowing praise for the way Gomez handled her development of the character. “She took it on as such a badge of honor and really did her research, talked to so many great LGBT kids and was so, just, proud. To see that, to see an actor take it on with such pride was awesome,” she gushed. “They took it all really seriously. They really know that we’re trying to make people laugh, but we’re also trying to open hearts and minds…The responsibility that they feel, they get it.”
The year may be young, but One Day at a Time may have already delivered the best LGBT story of 2017. Here’s to hoping that Netflix gives them the opportunity to tell more.
Season one of One Day at a Time is available to stream now on Netflix.