If you were surprised, annoyed, or devastated last spring when Netflix canceled One Day at a Time, their reboot of the 1970s Norman Lear sitcom helmed by Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce, all you’ll need is a cable subscription to have your spirits lifted as One Day’s fourth season premiered on Pop TV, reuniting viewers with the Alvarez family as we jump right back into their joys and pitfalls.
Last season ended with Lydia (Rita Moreno) and Dr. Leslie Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) flying to Miami to spread the ashes of Lydia’s deceased husband, Berto, in the ocean. But Lydia instead surprises Penelope by calling from Cuba, where she and Leslie smoke cigars in the sun. If you’re wondering if the happy platonic couple may stay there indefinitely, don’t worry—the Cuban excursion is hardly addressed in 4.01, with both Lydia and Leslie back at the Alvarez home to answer questions from a census taker played by a gruff Ray Romano. (Yes, within the first five minute there’s a bad Everybody Loves Raymond joke and a great zinger aimed at Netflix.)
The census is a smart device to introduce ODAAT’s characters to new Pop TV viewers who may not have seen the show before; the new episodes will air after the remaining new episodes of Schitt’s Creek, so ODAAT is almost sure to attract new viewers. (And I can’t think of a better self-isolation balm than that 1-2 punch of absurd and familial comedy.) The census also leads Penelope to contemplate her love life after she checks off all the official designations for single. She ended last season by rejecting her EMT ex-boyfriend, Max (Ed Quinn), after the two shared a dance at her ex-husband Victor’s wedding. But as her therapy group made up of other women veterans points out, Penelope is not exactly reluctant to bring up Max and her fondness of him.
Meanwhile, Elena (Isabella Gomez) faces relationship difficulties of her own when she and Syd (Sheridan Pierce) find that they can’t spend one day apart after mutually deciding to break up in college. They don’t want to be “those people,” they keep insisting, who think their high school relationship will last through college. After a grueling 24 hours apart—during which Elena tries to rebuff lesbian stereotypes of codependency, much to Alex’s amusement—the two decide to embrace their happiness and stay together. It’s only the beginning of senior year for Elena and Syd, but it’s no surprise to see a mature and honest conversation from one of the healthiest teenage couples on television.
After some more cajoling from Schneider (Todd Grinnell), who’s just asked his girlfriend, Avery, to move in with him, Penelope tries casually seeking out Max at his hospital. Although Quinn makes an appearance this episode, Max has taken a job with Doctors Without Borders in Indonesia, leaving without saying goodbye to Penelope.
Taunted by her mother about dying alone, Penelope tries to be a good role model of independence to her kids while grappling with the fact that she does want romantic companionship. “I don’t need a man,” she explains. “The problem is I still like men. What I want is to not want a man.” She jokes about creating a new dating app called “Six Dates In,” where users can skip the mundane conversations of first dates and jump into knowing each other better. Which begs the question: Why aren’t Penelope and Schneider a pair? They’re best friends who’ve seen each other at both their best and worst. They’ve been through divorce, addiction recovery and relapse, and parental troubles together, and they always come out on the other side laughing. If Penelope wants to find a guy who makes her feel like she’s already six dates in, maybe this season she won’t need to look outside her own apartment building.
Amelia Merrill is a New York-based journalist and theatre artist. Her writing can be seen on Shondaland, American Theatre magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @Miajmerrill.