At the close of One Day at a Time’s third season, Penelope, Justina Machado’s divorced Cuban mom and military veteran raising two teens in Los Angeles, made a choice to remain unattached to a man so that she could concentrate on herself. Earlier in the season, the series tackled frank discussions around teen sex between Penelope’s lesbian daughter, Elena (Isabella Gomez), and her nonbinary partner, Syd (Sheridan Pierce). A reimagining of Norman Lear’s classic ’70s sitcom, the new series also leaned into racism the family faced as Latinx people.
On Thursday, ODAAT’s network, Netflix, announced it was canceling the series after its recently concluded third season due to low ratings, even amid fan outcry. The show represented intersections of identity like few others on the television landscape, but if a series that intersects three marginalized communities can’t make it, who was watching?
“We’ve made the very difficult decision not to renew One Day At A Time for a fourth season. The choice did not come easily — we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season,” Netflix announced in a tweet.
With the demand for representation for LGBTQ people, people of color, and women ostensibly higher than ever among marginalized communities, now is the time to support the content that represents those groups. While there are other shows that center women, POC, and queer characters including CBS All Access’s The Good Fight, Freeform’s The Bold Type, Grown-ish, and Good Trouble, and Starz’s deeply intersectional Vida, ODAAT’s cancellation is a blow to intersectional programming, especially since Netflix had more than 50 million U.S. subcribers as of 2018. Considering that women make up half of the population, LGBTQ people about 4.5 percent, and Latinx people about 18.1 percent, it just doesn’t add up that the series lost out to low ratings. Unless, after cries for inclusion, we weren’t really tuning in, despite the show’s acclaim.
The series from Gloria Calderon Kellett retrofitted Lear’s groundbreaking ’70s classic about a divorced mom raising two girls to reflect the interests and concerns of modern audiences. Kellett’s version updated the family to Cuban rather than white and gave the mom a lesbian daughter and a son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz) — a thoughtful way to explore issues around single moms raising boys in a time when toxic masculinity is a hot topic.
The series also gave Penelope a live-in mother, Lydia (played by the legendary Rita Moreno), who was steeped in the ways of her native Cuba but who also proved that older folks can open their minds and evolve around issues of gender and queerness. What the new ODAAT held on to from the original series was the multicamera approach to sitcom storytelling, which has lately been supplanted by single-cam comedies like 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family, and Broad City. It kept the original’s propensity to take on tough topical issues but did so with a whole lot of heart.
Regarding ODAAT’s cancellation, Netflix also tweeted, “To anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important. The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories.”
But no one on Netflix is telling the story of women (especially non-millenial-aged women), queer people, and Latinx people quite like ODAAT.
To be sure, Netflix has other Latinx shows in the pipeline including America Ferrera’s Gente-fied, and Selena: The Series, about the beloved singer who was murdered at the height of her career. The network also has plenty of shows that include queer characters like the problematic 13 Reasons Why, which, despite fan outcry against its glorification of teen suicide, was picked up for another season. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina boasts a female lead with a cast that includes people of color and queer characters, but those characters are secondary to the (presumably at this point) heterosexual white lead character.
With Orange Is the New Black closing out its final season this year, and Netflix canceling the sweet series Everything Sucks, which featured a queer female couple among its ensemble cast, being canceled after a single season (despite fan outcry), the network is far from moving intersectional representation forward. ODAAT’s cancelation leaves Dear White People to really carry the mantle on Netflix to tell stories about intersections of marginalization.
Turn to Twitter, and the #SaveODAAT is trending like crazy. Fans are hoping that the show will be shopped to another network. Although another network could run into the same issues over ODAAT. Because of the original ’70s series, the show has to pay licensing fees to Sony Pictures, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
There are those on Twitter suggesting to viewers bereft that the ODAAT was canceled that there are other intersectional shows featuring Latinx and queer people to watch — namely Vida. But unlike Netflix, that show’s network Starz is part of a pay cable package and it’s not as easy to access as Netflix. So if the people ODAAT represented weren’t watching on a network where multiple people can share an account for the price of a few cups of coffee a month, then there’s no telling how they might access Starz. Also, there’s room, as there should be, for more than one series that intersects women, queer, and Latinx people.
Still, access isn’t always the issue. In 2016, ABC aired the mini-series When We Rise, which chronicled LGBTQ history from the ’70s through marriage equality, and its ratings were the lowest of all the networks the night it premiered. When We Rise, with its decidedly often whitewashed take on LGBTQ history, wasn’t the only LGBTQ-themed story that failed to rally numbers that year. Despite its Oscar win, Moonlight, about a queer young man of color, drew the lowest box office of all the Best Picture nominees that year. And there’s the case of Everything Sucks, which Netflix handily disposed of after a few episodes.
“If these television shows and films succeed, they have the power to change hearts and minds,” The Advocate’s Daniel Reynolds wrote at the time When We Rise failed in the ratings. Frankly, we can use all the hearts and minds we can get right now. We also must show Hollywood and the world the strength of our numbers, which have never been greater.
It’s true that, in some ways, we’re in the golden age of intersectional TV, and there’s a lot to support. Shows like Pose and Transparent have moved the needle in terms of representation for trans people in ways that could not have been imagined a decade ago. The Good Fight features three female leads, one over 60, one biracial, and one lesbian, and they work at a primarily black law firm. The CW has a lesbian superhero of color and a trans superhero, and Freeform continues to push representation for marginalized people to the edge with its revolutionary programming.
But ODAAT’s loss is a big one. Its gentle but pointed, family-friendly, issues-oriented storytelling has not been matched anywhere else on TV. It seems unfair to put it on those who are represented in content like ODAAT, many of whom are quite literally fighting for the lives and rights under Donald Trump, to tune in and support progressive content. But telling the stories of POC, queer people, women, and other marginalized communities is a step toward breaking down barriers. We can’t demand the content and then fail to tune in. If we’re not supporting our own stories and all of our intersections, then we can’t expect anyone else will.
TRACY E. GILCHRIST is The Advocate’s feminism editor. Follow her on Twitter @TracyEGilchrist.