My son and I have been working our way through TV series such as Full house, Fuller House, Champions and Atypical. When looking for something else we decided to take a look at “One Day at a Time” and we haven’t looked back.
What I especially love about this series is that they’re very open and honest about mental health. They are not afraid to discuss how it can, at times, totally debilitate you and that it isn’t just something you can snap out of or just smile your way through.
One of the main characters, Penelope (Justina Machado), is a United States Army Nurse Corps Veteran. The show’s focus is about her return to civilian life with a lot of unresolved issues from her time in Afghanistan.
Penelope’s mother, Lydia, has moved in with her to help her raise her two children and the back and forth banter between the two is brilliant and hilarious writing. Unfortunately for Penelope, her mother is from the era where you don’t talk about mental illness and she doesn’t understand it.
She refers to Penelope’s support group as the “cuckoo party” and was heard to say that “therapy is for the locos”.
Lydia’s negative attitude towards mental health doesn’t make Penelope feel like she can open up to her sadly. It takes time, but as the series plays out Lydia comes to understand her daughter’s challenges. The mother daughter bond deepens in direct response to Lydia’s deeper understanding about mental health issues.
Penelope struggles with accepting she has mental health challenges. Sometimes, she just wants to pretend it isn’t there at all. We see Penelope has been prescribed anti-depressants and in one episode she throws the bag containing her medication in the bin, reassuring herself that she’s okay and doesn’t need it. If only it was that easy.
The story arc over the first two season touches on many issues. Issues that so many people can relate to. All issues that can affect a person’s mental health. Penelope’s struggles with PTSD and depression, her son being bullied because of the colour of his skin, her mother taking ill and her
daughter coming to terms with her sexuality.
This is a series you need to watch as a family. The writing is excellent, blending humour with deeper topics. It comes across as more than a sitcom but not overly dramatic.
In spite of everything Penelope has thrown her way, she begins every day determined to make something good of it. A lesson for us all.
I know that watching this series with my son has not only bonded us in the experience, but it has further opened the conversation around issues that affect mental health. Seeing your own experience portrayed on screen, the normality of it, is comforting. People’s base instinct is to want to have acceptance and love. Characters like Penelope, who struggle with mental health issues, but who is portrayed as someone who is funny, kind and loving and just happens to have a mental health challenge, normalises mental health and encourages acceptance. Penelope’s mental health issues are PART of who she is, not who she is.
I know my son and I are eagerly awaiting the third season to be released.