'One Day at a Time's' Gloria Calderon Kellett on Honoring Norman Lear's Legacy
The writer and co-showrunner of the Netflix sitcom opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about the "pressure" to live up to Lear's original pioneering series from the '70s.
The latest installment of Netflix's One Day at a Time premiered last month — and, despite the fact that the sitcom has enjoyed three seasons on the streaming service, writer and co-showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett is still feeling the "pressure."
In a recent In Studio interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the Cuban-American TV scribe — whose own family inspired the Latinx reboot of Norman Lear's iconic 1970s series of the same name — said that it's important for One Day at a Time 2.0 to live up to the legacy of Lear's pioneering show.
"There's so much pressure. [Norman Lear] basically invented TV. At one point, he had almost nine shows on the air at the same time," said Calderon Kellett, calling out staples of Lear's like The Jeffersons, Good Times and Sanford and Son. "And groundbreaking work, not just silly, feel-good shows."
Lear's trailblazing work included a then-controversial abortion storyline on Maude in 1972, and later his decision to have the first divorced female character on television at the center of the original One Day at a Time, which premiered in 1975. In 2019, Calderon Kellett is equally fearless — and hoping to make an impact as indelible as Lear's.
"He was the first of his kind, really, and so we had this tremendous legacy — [co-showrunner] Mike Royce and I — to not mess up the Lear legend," she told THR, adding that she is grateful to have Lear as a co-executive producer on this project as well. "So, here he's giving us the keys to the kingdom, and we just didn't want to let him down."
On Netflix's revival of the show — which debuted in 2017 and stars Justina Machado (Penelope), Rita Moreno (Lydia, aka "Abuelita"), Isabella Gomez (Elena), Marcel Ruiz (Alex, aka "Papito") and Todd Grinnell (Schneider) — Calderon Kellett tackles gender equality, racism, homophobia, addiction and mental health, among other timely topics. To ensure authenticity and sensitivity, the industry vet — who previously wrote for Lifetime's Latina-fronted Devious Maids — tactfully assembled a writers' room that is currently majority female with a remarkable amount of Latinx and queer voices.
"It was thoughtfully put together. Very often in comedy writers' rooms it's very male, and very white male. And I like white guys. I married one. It's all good," she said with a laugh, referencing her marriage to cartoonist Dave Kellett. "But when you're telling these types of stories, equity is important. We knew that we wanted it to be very female. It's a matriarchy, this show. We have good men, too, but we wanted very strong women [in the writers' room]."
Calderon Kellett said that it was imperative to hire LGBTQ writers, since Gomez's character, Elena, comes out as a lesbian in high school, fueling many storylines. "We also wanted queer voices. We thought that was very important to genuinely tell this coming-out story," Calderon Kellett explained. "And, obviously, we have various Latinx [writers]. We have Cubans, El Salvadorians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans — we're all in there! So if it's relatable to all of us, it tends to go in the script."
While some moments from the series that resonate with the Latinx community are laugh-inducing, some can be rather serious. Along with racism, One Day at a Time has touched on xenophobic attitudes — and the desire to build a wall — in Trump's America. In one episode from season two, Ruiz's character, Alex, is told to "go back to Mexico" by a bully — a moment ripped straight from Calderon Kellett's own life.
"That was based on a call I got from my brother — he's much darker than I am — and he was in San Diego out on the beach with his kids, and someone told him to go back to Mexico. I was like, 'What?!'" Calderon Kellett recalled. "So we were talking about that in the room, and we were talking about colorism, and we thought we should do an episode about that. That's something not really discussed a lot in the Latinx community, and it became one of the episodes that people talked about the most."
In season three, audiences can expect more relevant issues to take center stage — including anxiety, depression, weed legalization and, yes, even sexual misconduct. "We definitely do a #MeToo episode," said Calderon Kellett, who hopes that approaching heavy subjects with humor can help viewers "carry on these conversations in their homes."
For more from Calderon Kellett, watch the video above. Season three of One Day at a Time is streaming now on Netflix.