While it may be said all the time, the importance and power of positive representation and seeing oneself on screen is hugely powerful and influential, especially for young viewers. Perhaps no other television series is doing more for positive representation than Netflix’s One Day at a Time. Recently renewed for Season 3, the comedy follows three generations of a Cuban-American family and addresses issues such as LGBT acceptance, gun laws, PTSD and mental health while still managing to make us smile and laugh. Recently showrunners Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce joined Isabella Gomez, who plays Elena, for a panel to discuss the show’s emphasis on these issues at ClexaCon 2018.
ClexaCon is a multi-fandom event for LGBTQ women and allies that celebrates LGBTQ women and characters and was held April 5-9, 2018 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, NV. Royce and Calderon Kellett shared the inspiration behind Elena’s coming out story, why representing the Latin family experience is so important and why the show wants to add to the conversations around mental health. Check out highlights from the panel below and look for Season 3 next year on Netflix.
Royce drew on personal experience
Like all the best stories, when they come from a place of personal importance it tends to mean more and the writing is stronger because of it. That was the case for Royce when decisions were being made to have Elena come out as gay to her family. “My daughter was coming out kind of at the same time that we were writing the first season,” Royce explained. He also noted that the show “hired two gay writers to be a part of the staff and we were drawing from their experiences to write this storyline.” Royce and Calderon Kellett noted that they made sure Gomez and her parents were all in on Elena’s story from the outset as well. “The response we got from Isabella and her family was so warm. She took it so seriously and wanted so much to portray this accurately and do it right,” reminisced Calderon Kellett. Gomez added that she remembered thinking she “had ever seen a young Latina character be LGBTQ on TV, so I was like ‘yea!’”
Introducing a non-binary character
The choice to introduce a partner for Elena, Syd (Sheridan Pierce), in Season 2 who identifies as non-binary and uses “they/them” pronouns also came from a personal place. “I took my daughter to college and the first sign I saw in her dorm said ‘here are the chart of pronouns.’ I was overwhelmed but also curious,” Royce said. He said his experience with his daughter was very similar to the scene during Season 2 where Elena’s friends discuss what pronouns they prefer and confuse Lydia (Rita Moreno). “This is all stuff I’m ignorant about,” he said before recalling a phone conversation with his daughter where “she has two friends that are each non-binary and they each use “they” as their pronouns. I had never met them and was trying to get it straight who was going where.” Calderon Kellett added that “as you see how starved all these communities are, you can’t help but feel like you have to do more.” Gomez also acknowledge she didn’t realize what a big deal Syd would be. “I think we forget that unless you teach people these things there’s no way for them to know.”
Destigmatizing mental health
Calderon Kellett said that Penelope’s (Justina Machado) battle with PTSD and depression was very important to her “because I have mental health issues in my family and it’s something that was never discussed. I think we need to destigmatize it so it’s not a privilege. Mental health should be a basic human right. It’s not something that we should shy away from talking about and seeking treatment for.” Gomez added in that her parents tell her how so many mental health issues or conditions such as ADHD just weren’t known when they were younger. “It’s interesting to talk to them now because they just don’t know. No one ever talked to them about it. There’s such a stigma and I don’t know why it’s there,” she said.
The mental health discussion continues
While Episode 209 was a very powerful one for Penelope’s struggle with mental health, don’t expect the story to go away in Season 3. “We’ll just continue it,” said Calderon Kellett. “Lydia is more on board than she has been. We try to string it through, as it would be in life,” she explained. She noted that means a combination of therapy as well as pills because Penelope is “trying to responsibly deal with it and she’ll continue to.”
Back at work!
While the fate of ODAAT was uncertain for awhile, the audience at the panel did take a moment to congratulate the team on the Season 3 renewal. “Luckily, Netflix didn’t keep us waiting at all. It wasn’t heart-wrenching and completely emotionally devastating for a couple of months,” joked Royce. He did say that they are already back at it and “we started back in the writers’ room this week.”
Their favorite Latinx representation
While ODAAT does a lot of Latinx representation, the panelists were asked their favorite example of Latinx representation on TV. Gomez first noted that she “learned I’m white-passing through Elena,” which meant that she “never thought about representation in that way because I kind of looked like the people on screen.” However, she noted that “it wasn’t until Jane the Virgin that I realized that’s me on TV. That’s my family. That’s my culture.” Calderon Kellett said that she loves Brooklyn 99, “mostly because there’s two Latinas. There’s usually one, but there’s two and that’s everything.”
Will Carmen come back?
Is there any chance we’ll ever see Elena’s best friend Carmen (Ariela Barer) again? Calderon Kellett said “we tried in Season 2.” However, Barer’s new role as a regular on Hulu’s Runaways has caused some scheduling issues that they are hoping can be solved to have her back for Season 3. “Unfortunately, Ariela Barer is being a star as a superhero,” joked Gomez.
Why Lydia has an accent
When asked why it was important for Lydia to still have an accent, Calderon Kellett said simply “because my parents have strong Cuban accents.” She went on to explain that she “loved them growing up because my parents had them. They came here when they were 15 from Cuba and they are 72 now and still have it. It’s part of their identity.”
Most surprising reactions
In the closing moments, Gomez discussed that some of the most surprising reactions she’s gotten to Elena’s story have been from adults affected by the story and that’s “what blows my mind most.” She went on to elaborate that “when we did the first season I did not realize what a huge deal it would be. It wasn’t until after that I had parents come up to me and say ‘my kid started a conversation because of your show,’ or ‘if Elena Alvarez had been around when I was 15 life would’ve been easier.’” She made sure to tell the crowd that “to be able to be the face of that and get to connect with you all, hear your stories and have you be so vulnerable with all of us, is the most surprising and beautiful thing.”
Thoughts on the One Day at a Time panel? Share them below!
One Day at a Time Season 3 will return to Netflix in 2019.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.