Following Lydia’s stroke, Season 3 framed itself around the question of what comes after a life-changing event. Lydia resisted adjusting the habits that put her health at risk. Elena, whose father reacted poorly when she came out to him as a lesbian in the first season, struggled with her dad’s attempts to make amends. Schneider, a recovering alcoholic, relapsed and despaired at the thought of starting over in his sobriety. One Day at a Time’s final season at Netflix wound up being the one that most lived up to its title: Change, the show argued, is possible only in small steps taken daily. While Lydia was in the hospital, Schneider recalled a visit she paid him during one of his previous stints in rehab: “You told me, ‘You eat this, you get some sleep, and tomorrow, you try again.’”
One Day at a Time was that kind of show: relentlessly hopeful not in spite of how hard life can be, but because of it. In Season 3, Lydia drafted what she called a “bouquet list,” her spin on a bucket list. “It is an arrangement of all of the beautiful things you still want to do before you kick the bucket,” she explained. The heartbeat of One Day at a Time was its spirited insistence that beauty can thrive alongside pain. The series blended multicam-sitcom laughs with a fearless willingness to tackle heavy social issues. It was entertaining for reasons beyond its cultural relevance, but it was relevant, and it gave voice to a number of demographics that are still underrepresented on television, including Latinx families, immigrants, single mothers, LGBTQ teens, and veterans dealing with PTSD.
Netflix understood why fans clung to the show, which only made the optics of the cancellation worse. The streaming service took the rare approach of using Twitter to announce the “very difficult decision” not to renew One Day at a Time for a fourth season. “We spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work,” the thread reads, “but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season.” Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about program ratings, except when they’re staggering, meaning the statement placed blame on the one factor in the cancellation that no one outside the company could really understand or accept. It was like passing the buck to a ghost.
But the idea that One Day at a Time’s future was ever outside Netflix’s control was an illusion. The cast, showrunners, and fans were left to push for the show’s renewal on social media because Netflix had failed to give the throwback sitcom the same robust promotion it had given other buzzy original series, such as Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why. Hot off an expensive Oscars campaign for Roma, the company has been touting itself as a platform for diverse voices, but that commitment feels hollow when one of its most inclusive shows was given so few opportunities to find an audience.