On Thursday, Netflix informed viewers that it would be canceling “One Day at a Time,” its reboot of the classic Norman Lear series, after three seasons. It was a decision that stung not just in itself, but also for the way Netflix announced it.
There’s a scene in the second season of the show that I bring up whenever someone asks me about the show. Penelope Alvarez, a Cuban American single mother, is arguing with her teenage son, Alex, about his nickname, Papito. He finds it patronizing. “Papito is not an age thing,” she assures him. “We call Conrad ‘Macho,’ because when he was 4, he sang ‘Macho Man’ once.”
She fires off a long list of family nicknames as further evidence. Her mother, Lydia, agrees: “It is the way of our people!” The familial tradition is clear to them, even obvious. “If you don’t have a nickname, there’s something wrong with you,” Penelope says.
When I was watching the show, my girlfriend (who is white) turned to me on the couch, looking amused, and said: “I thought that was just your family.” While I am Mexican American — not Cuban American, like the Alvarez family — that scene was the first time I ever had that specific aspect of my Latinx experience represented on screen.
As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even 100 percent sure that was a Latinx thing until I saw it play out on screen. For all I knew, the torrent of nicknames my family hurls at each other — and the arbitrary reasoning behind each — was just a Sanchez thing, maybe a Chicano thing, but never something so ubiquitous that it would make its way into the script of a multicamera sitcom.
The Latin American experience is not monolithic, and the show was careful to illustrate that. There were Cuban in-jokes I was not familiar with, sure — but there were also story lines relatable to anyone who has been threatened by their abuela, shamed for their Spanish proficiency or walked a well-meaning peer through a microaggression.
These are the small moments in which “One Day at a Time” excelled. Whether you’re Latin American, a single parent, a veteran or part of a working-class family, it felt like the show could take an experience you thought was painfully specific to you and present it to a wider audience with charm and empathy. It helped you see yourself in a new context.
This sense of connection and community — this attention to what we share and the ways we differ — made the artlessness of Netflix’s announcement all the uglier. The streaming platform’s Twitter account is known for its meme-drenched, first-person posts and slightly-too-personal sense of humor. As far as carefully crafted corporate Twitter personas, it’s one of the more personal and less egregious accounts one can follow. And as someone who runs a brand’s Twitter account myself, I’m sympathetic to whoever has to convey serious news in a voice that feels native to the platform.
On Thursday, the account posted a short thread, breaking the news to fans.
The statement was strange, never specifying the “we,” while seemingly blaming fans for not recruiting more viewers. The account’s first-person pronouns are fun and convenient when tweeting about who you stan on “The Great British Baking Show” but feel inelegant when you need to represent the decisions of faceless corporate executives. The ambiguity in “we must continue finding ways to tell these stories” displaces some responsibility onto the viewer. The self-congratulatory nods to “representation” reek of the performative wokeness “One Day at a Time” often mocked.
And to make matters worse, the account references the show’s low viewership numbers, which Netflix famously does not release, except when it’s convenient for them. We’re so happy we got to tell your stories, Netflix seems to say. Unfortunately, those stories did not meet our bottom line. What’s our bottom line? We can’t say.
Netflix certainly is under no obligation to support a show that’s losing money. It’s a business decision, sure. But to cloak a business decision in the language of inclusiveness is tone-deaf at best and condescending at worst. They’re effectively telling us that we matter — we just don’t matter enough.
Seeing “my story” on screen was a truly welcome change to the flood of beige-colored prestige dramedies we’re encouraged to binge. But I’m also concerned about the loss of moments like the one I shared with my girlfriend. It was an opportunity for both of us to realize that a singular experience was larger than one person.
Seeing yourself represented in mass culture is important. But when others stop seeing us, we lose something greater.