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‘One Day at a Time’ gets animated about politics and family in new election episode

"One Day at a Time" animates Penelope (voiced by Justina Machado) and Lydia (Rita Moreno) for a politics-themed episode.
“One Day at a Time” animates Penelope (voiced by Justina Machado), left, and Lydia (Rita Moreno) for a special politics-themed episode.
(Pop TV)

Conversations about politics inevitably get a little animated. And “One Day at a Time” found a way to lean into that with a special animated episode.

“The Politics Episode,” which simulcast Tuesday night on Pop TV and TV Land, explores the upcoming 2020 presidential election through the lens of the show’s Alvarez family as they face uncomfortable political conversations with loved ones.

Things kick into action when the Alvarez clan — Penelope (Justina Machado), Alex (Marcel Ruiz), Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Lydia (Rita Moreno) — find themselves quickly preparing for a visit from their conservative family members: Tía Mirtha (Gloria Estefan), Estrellita (Melissa Fumero) and Tío Juanito (Lin-Manuel Miranda).

The tension that drives the episode comes from the anticipation and unease about discussing politics head-on at a time when, at least for the Alvarezes, avoiding the discussion altogether feels too passive — the stakes are too high. Mom Penelope spends much of the time imagining all the ways that conversations with her cousin Estrellita might unfold and, with the help of teen daughter Elena, trying to find common ground — which means she’ll also need to do some listening.

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President Trump is not mentioned by name in the episode (nor has he ever been on the reboot of “One Day at a Time”), but his presence is undoubtedly felt.

Co-showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce knew they wanted to center an episode about the upcoming election on a recognizable situation: differences of opinion within a family.

“One Day at a Time” survived cancelation at Netflix and the move to Pop. Now, as Season 4 debuts, the coronavirus outbreak has thrown it another curveball.

“In Latino households, I think this conversation is being had,” Calderón Kellett said during a Tuesday night panel about the episode that I moderated (the panel was organized by Sony Pictures Television, which produces the series). “I think that for years it was, ‘Oh, you’re crazy liberal,’ ‘You’re crazy conservative.’ But now there’s a shift ... This is a different time; this president has made things very different. And I think very important conversations are being had with all communities of color specifically about what that means and what white supremacy means.

“I’m Cuban,” she continued. “My West Coast Cuban relatives and my East Coast Cuban relatives, specifically Miami Cubans, are much more Republican, and some of them don’t support this president but some of them love this president. And there’s just been conversations lately about like: We’ve got to talk because I love you and you love me and if I can’t talk to you, how are we supposed to build these bridges? I need to try to understand and get in your head space ... and we need to come together in some capacity.”

Calderón Kellett and Royce began tinkering with the idea for the episode last fall and had been working on the writing in mid-March, just a few days before production across Hollywood shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. With the show’s triumphant resurrection season cut short (the series had taped six of 13 commissioned episodes for its fourth season, which was picked up by Pop TV after the first three streamed on Netflix), the two showrunners were in constant communication about finding ways to salvage the season without risk to the cast and crew. They pitched Sony the idea for an animated episode — and they knew they wanted their politics episode to be the one, because they wanted it out before the election.

Hear interviews with TV stars in the new L.A. Times podcast ‘Can’t Stop Watching.’

“It’s the coolest thing in the world to be a cartoon character,” said Todd Grinnell, who plays Schneider. “Because it’s animated, [it] just feels like this will be like a time capsule for ‘ODAAT’ — it’s just such a cool episode and it’s a moment in time for the show that I just really am grateful for.”

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But don’t count on “One Day at a Time” switching formats for good as producers monitor the current health crisis and determine when it may be safe for cast and crew to return to work. If the series can’t resume production soon, they hope to find other ways to “keep the show out there,” Calderón Kellett said.

“Listen, we’re not putting Rita Moreno in danger or Norman Lear in danger or any of our cast and crew in danger,” she said, nodding to the increased COVID-19 risk for people over 65. “So we will find clever ways to continue because we love making the show. ... And my hope is that especially shows about people of color do not falter as a result of this. We need to be really loud in saying we want the shows back that we love that COVID took down.”


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