In the latest One Day at a Time, we meet a new character: Alex’s girlfriend Nora, played by Raquel Justice. Penelope was miffed to find out that the two have been dating a bit longer than Alex let on, but there’s a good reason for the high schooler to hide his personal life from his mother: she can be just a tad overbearing, and if you’re a new viewer to the recent Pop TV acquisition, “Penny Pinching” is a good introduction to Pen’s abject stubbornness.
The Alvarez family takes Nora to dinner, which seems to go well until Penelope publicly berates a waiter over happy hour food prices. It’s an awkward scene that ends with a free dessert the waiter probably spat in, and an enraged Alex. The problem isn’t that Penelope embarrassed Alex in front of his girlfriend—that’s pretty much fair game for parents. The issue is that Penelope’s money anxieties haven’t caught up to her new nurse practitioner salary, as best exemplified by her refusal to replace the family’s broken couch.
That weekend, Elena borrows the family car to go to an e-sports convention, but first has to drive Alex and Lydia to their various errands. Meanwhile, Schneider drags Penelope to a discount furniture store, claiming it’s the cheapest one in the area. It’s a little uncomfortable to watch Penelope get lectured about budgeting and spending by a friend whose wealth has been the butt of jokes for three seasons, especially right now; the friendship between a single mom and her landlord hits a little different in a world where many are struggling to pay their rent tomorrow. I think this storyline, like many others across many shows, would’ve landed a bit better in a pre-COVID time.
The second episode isn’t plot-heavy, but does culminate in a dramatic argument that echoes early hard-hitting scenes of ODAAT. Late to the convention, Elena had to park on the street, and is shocked by her mom’s newfound chill attitude when she reveals that someone broke in to the car. “It’s only money,” Penelope says, coaxing Elena to come clean about the real reason for the broken window: she left her laptop in plain sight on the front seat. It’s an uncharacteristic move for the A-student older sister who preaches personal responsibility to Alex, and Penelope isn’t shy to lay in to her daughter.
“How can someone so smart do something so stupid?” she says, almost bringing Elena to tears. The heated moment gives the episode some weight and prompts a frank conversation about the root of Penelope’s money woes: Lydia didn’t just move in for emotional support after Victor left the family—Penelope couldn’t make rent without her. Frankly, the B-plot of “Penny Pinching” was overrun with lackluster jokes about Lydia’s groceries and Dr. B’s social awkwardness, but this closing scene tied the two plots together and grounded the episode in reality. The fourth season of One Day is well on its way to uniting its voice with its new cable home.