Three Things Thursday: Returns and a Remake
Look at this! I’ve already remembered to do this post two entire weeks in a row! I am amazing.
Junior Design: The Reckoning
Sadly, that’s not the actual name of the class I’m teaching this semester. But we got back to work here at Georgia Tech this week, which for me means teaching three sections of Junior Design: Part Two. The Junior Design sequence is a collaboration with the Computer Science department, which combines computer science projects with technical communication as students produce apps, websites, and other projects for various clients.
In the first half of the course (which I taught last semester), students formed teams, bid on projects, and began developing their ideas. This semester, students get to jump into actual coding and development, with the goal of presenting their client with a finished product by the end of the semester. I’m looking forward to seeing the work they do—and finding out which of my students is secretly an animal-themed superhero with a rhyming name.*
*This is an Unbeatable Squirrel Girl joke. It’s very funny, I promise.
The Good Place
The Good Place is back! The Good Place is back! Just in time for its season to end soon, but still. It’s back!
This show has been a delight across its first season, and the list of reasons is long: a solid creative team, a willingness to reveal secrets lesser shows would mine for drama, a complex and evolving mythology, and also Ted Danson. But for my money, the show’s MVP is William Jackson Harper as Chidi. Harper has what could be a potentially high bar to clear, because unlike Kristin Bell’s Eleanor, who is in the “Good Place” by mistake and thus gets to pull comedy from being out of place, Chidi is precisely where he’s supposed to be.* As such, Harper must convey Chidi’s innate goodness while still being funny—and he does it, week after week.
*For now. Certainly theories abound as to the extent to which all the characters belong (or don’t) in the Good Place.
Anyway. The Good Place is great. The end.
One Day at a Time
On Friday, Netflix launched its remake of One Day at a Time. Also on Friday, I watched the entire first season.
(What? Atlanta was preparing for the snowpocalypse that was never going to come. I regret nothing.)
Anyway, the point is, this show is fantastic. One Day at a Time follows the Alvarez family, made up of single mom Penelope, teenage daughter Elena, tween son Alex, and grandmother Lydia, with regular pop-ins from the building super Schneider. While the show could easily feel like a generic rehash of sitcom tropes, it instead takes its multi-camera format and well-worn dynamics and transforms them into specific, funny storytelling.* The Alvarez family is Cuban, and their history and heritage filters into the show in ways large and small: Lydia came to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan; the family immediately challenges Schneider’s ignorance over the Che Guevara t-shirt he wears one day; they slip in and out of (typically un-subtitled) Spanish as they bicker and talk.**
*Yes, it’s a multicam. Yes, it’s great. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, despite what the single cam comedy trend would have us think.
**Watching One Day at a Time made me wish Cristela were still on the air, so that, with Jane the Virgin, we’d have THREE entire television shows about Latino families headed by amazing women.
Moreover, Penelope is a veteran who spends much of the season dealing with the fallout from her time in the military, whether that be having to spend all day on hold with the VA or finally finding emotional support in a group of female veterans. The show treats the experience of these veterans with care; unsurprising, given that co-showrunner Mike Royce’s previous show, Enlisted, did the same.*** When Penelope admits that she’s hurting as a result of all she’s lost, her mother holds her and assures her, “I got you.” It’s a short, sweet reminder that becomes the mission statement for the season.
***Watch Enlisted, please. It’s also great.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, it is Elena’s story that I found most compelling. Television often has a problem with its teenage characters, and the reasons for that are too abundant for me to fully unpack here. But I would argue that the primary reason so many teenage characters are grating and frustrating to watch is because the shows on which they exist rarely take them seriously. More precisely, the characters often take their emotions and experiences seriously, but the shows are quick to use that self-seriousness to dismiss them as angsty and annoying.
That’s not the case in One Day at a Time. Elena is an outspoken feminist—her rants against misogyny and the patriarchy are regular occurrences—and yes, sometimes her grandmother accuses her of being “annoying” as a result. But—and this is the important part—her family still listens to her, and she to them. She rejects the idea of having a quinceañera on feminist grounds, but relents when comes to understand that her mother has reasons beyond tradition to want the event to happen. And, in a beautiful moment at the end of the season, her grandmother hears the truth behind Elena’s discomfort with her quinces dress and offers a new version that captures who Elena truly is. In this way, Elena’s experiences are respected—by herself, by her family, and by her show.
That same respect is extended to Elena’s evolving understanding of her identity. (Note: I tend to prefer not to treat a character’s sexual orientation as a “spoiler,” but if you’re concerned about info that doesn’t appear until partway through the season, skip ahead to the next paragraph.) While she’s clearly been thinking about the subject for some time, Elena doesn’t have all the answers, even when she begins to come out as gay to her family. She’s given space to experiment, and to learn about herself, in a way that is often prohibited for sitcom teens. The way all of this comes together in the finale—in several small moments, and one in particular which features a callback to the “I got you” from the first episode—is immensely affecting. (Which is my way of saying I ugly cried through much of the last episode.)
Oh, and one more thing: Rita Moreno is a freaking treasure. As Lydia, she wrings huge laughs and genuine pathos out of nearly every moment she’s given. She often plays things big and broad, but that’s only to make those moments when she pulls the rug out from under the audience even sharper. If you watch for no one else, watch for her.
Bonus Round: What I Read This Week
The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
The Cursed Queen by Sarah Fine
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 2 by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare