I love drama. Give me deep, mind warping intricate storytelling that stirs every feeling in the human catalog of emotions and I’m all over it. Bonus points if it leaves me questioning my life choices and throws me into an existential crisis. I’m all about that sad shit. Lately though, I find I crave more laughs than tears, lightheartedness is so scarce lately that I refuse to turn on the television unless I know I’ll have something funny to watch to alleviate the pains of the current political climate and overall state of disaster the world is in. My shows of preference are two that have not gotten as much mainstream attention as they deserve. They are Superstore, starring America Ferrera, and One Day at a Time, starring Justina Machado.
One is a workplace comedy from Justin Spitzer, who served as a writer for The Office (if that’s your thing, trust me, you’re in good hands), and the other is a reboot of the 70’s series about a Cuban American family dealing with all kinds of problems in a super awesome, funny, heartfelt way. But let’s get to the good stuff. Here are five reasons why you should be watching these after a long day of anti-Drumpf protesting.
Dream Leading Ladies.
I have been waiting for America Ferrera to star in network television since Ugly Betty ended in 2010. Aside from a couple of movies here and there, the woman has been MIA from our screens, but she’s back and thank goodness for that. She plays Amy, the most levelheaded employee—though not without a few quirks of her own—in a store full of crazy coworkers in a chain superstore called Cloud 9. She’s strong, she’s smart, and isn’t afraid of calling her annoyingly likeable (and obvious) love interest on his silly white nonsense.
(insert “Cuba” gif/picture)
Justina Machado, you might recognize as “that girl from that one movie”, though most notably as Vanessa Diaz in the award winning HBO series Six Feet under. In One Day at a Time, she plays Penelope, a single mother of two, nurse, and Army veteran dealing with PTSD and the cultural shame of seeking help for it, as well as an impending divorce and the challenges of raising two kids with her colorful Cuban mother, played by Rita Moreno. Yes, I’m sure it’s a comedy, and yes, it’s really funny.
Gay characters that are not suffering or dying!
Amongst a number of interesting and important issues that One Day at a Time has expertly handled, their “coming out” storyline is one of my favorites. In their very first season, Penelope’s teenage daughter, Elena, goes from wondering, to fearing she might be, and then finally, with the support of her family, accepting she is a lesbian. While her mother has a difficult time getting used to the fact, she does so in a super realistic way that shows the inner turmoil of what is a product of Penelope’s traditional Cuban upbringing without it turning into rejection of her daughter’s identity, which is refreshing, to say the least. Even Elena’s grandmother goes from unaccepting to full supporter within the span of a ten second monologue that you have to see to believe. The genius of Rita Moreno is not to be underplayed here.
While there is no coming out story in Superstore, there is one (so far) gay character named Mateo whose storyline has become more prominent as the show has entered its second season. Despite the fact that the show seemingly takes place in some small town somewhere, and despite the fact that Glenn, the store manager, is super religious and presumably conservative, Superstore manages to perceive every assumed stereotype into something obviously ridiculous through the eyes of its characters, and in turn, the fact that Mateo is gay is never a problematic issue, so you don’t have to worry about any cringe-worthy moments there.
Diverse Writing Teams.
This brings us to the real heroes. The writers. One Day at a Time has actual lesbians writing actual lesbian storylines! Imagine that. Michelle Badillo and Becky Mann have shaped Elena’s character into an actual compelling, intelligent, relatable teen. What’s more, the writers of both shows have managed to write characters of color as more than one-dimensional caricatures.
In addition, Superstore has brought up in Mateo’s storyline something I had never seen on television before, let alone on a Network SitCom, and that is the revelation that he is—unbeknownst to himself up until that point—an undocumented alien. In a recent episode, it has been addressed more directly when Mateo is required to provide his social security card in order to transfer to another store and he and two of his friends spend the entire time trying to figure out how to make him a legal resident, Jonah going as far as offering to marry him. The fact that there are many of us living that reality and it’s finally being addressed is groundbreaking.
In addition to great, funny stories, we’ve got great, funny Actors. Both of our leading ladies are Latinas. Backing America Ferrera is an array of scene stealing hilarious characters I can only describe as a livelier, louder version of the cast of The Office on their best episodes.
One Day at a Time has a smaller cast, but this allows for meatier storylines, which, in the original binge network, Netflix, is also a luxury, as it allows for more content and more of an opportunity for the audience to familiarize themselves with the characters. And did I mention it’s about a Cuban-American family?
Okay, she’s in one out of two shows, but it’s singer, dancer, EGOT holder and overall icon Rita Freaking Moreno, more popularly known as Anita in West Side Story. The legend that made my life when she put Elvis Presley on blast by stating that as a lover he was just so-so plays Lydia, mother to Machado’s Penelope. She is brazenly Cuban, unapologetically honest, passionate, and hilarious.
We know these days are hard enough without watching the news, so do yourself a favor and a have a hearty laugh.
Superstore airs on NBC Thursday nights at 8, and One Day at a Time is now streaming on Netflix.