Created by Whitney Blake (best known for her role as Dorothy Baxter, on the 1960’s sitcom Hazel) and Allan Mannings, One Day at a Time was developed and produced by Norman Lear. Debuting on December 16, 1975, the series centered on newly divorced mother, Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin), struggling to raise two teenage daughters on her own. Married at 17, this was Ann’s first time on her own. 16-year-old Julie (MacKenzie Phillips) is head-strong and emotional, while 13-year-old Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli, Hot in Cleveland) is a bit of tomboy, who tries to keep the peace between her mother and sister. Rounding out the cast is Pat Harrington, Jr. as building superintendent Dwayne Schneider (though his first name was hardly every used.) While Ann and the girls initially found the fact that Schneider would use his master key to enter their apartment whenever he felt like it, bothersome, he eventually became a pseudo member of the family.
As with Norman Lear’s other series (All in the Family, Maude, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), One Day at a Time didn’t shy away from controversial issues. While Ann Romano wasn’t the first divorced mother on television, she was among the most realistic. In the series’ early years, she struggled financially, to find a job and get court-ordered child support from her ex-husband Ed Cooper (frequent guest star Joseph Campanella). Despite it all, Ann is still interested in dating, and there are plenty of guys willing to take her out. Of course, some of the guys are creeps, but during the first season she does have an on-again, off-again, romance with David Kane (Richard Masur, Risky Business) a lawyer several years her junior who handled her divorce, and just so happens to be her upstairs neighbor. David clearly loved her, but he failed to understand that his overprotective manner is exactly what drove Ann to divorce her husband. By the second season, David had moved out of town.
Through the years, One Day at a Time made extensive use of multi-part episodes to address serious issues such as Julie running away from home, religion, suicide, infidelity, and more. Watching the series again, I realized I’d forgotten just how many serious issues this show took on amongst the laughs. From the start, Julie and Barbara dealt with peer pressure in a forthright manner rarely seen on television at the time. The show made a real effort to shine a light on contemporary women’s lives, and never shied away from the difficult issues. Somehow though, it’s not surprising when Julie gets married in a ‘comical’ manner. Julie thinks she’s marrying one guy, but decides at the last minute that she really loves his best friend/best man (Kaptain Kool and the Kongs‘ Michael Lembeck). She has to make up her mind since they have a deposit on the ceremony. Sadly, less than a year later, actress MacKenzie Phillips was fired from the series due to her ongoing drug use.
With Julie no longer around, the sixth season saw the addition of some new cast members. Anne begins a serious romantic relationship with Nick Handris (Gotham’s Ron Rifkin), and the two even go into business together. The couple are so comfortable around each other, that Nick brings his teenage son Alex (Glenn Scarpelli) to Ann’s apartment regularly. It’s a real shock when season seven opens with the news that Nick has been killed by a drunk driver. With his father dead, Ann agrees to raise Alex. The presence of a teenage boy in Ms. Romano’s apartment gives Schneider someone to offer his own special brand of mentoring. One of the best episodes featuring Alex is “Catcher in the Mud.” Schneider and his lodge buddies decide to give Alex an adult night out by taking him to see actual mud wrestling. Suffice to say, things get a little bit out of hand!
During the seventh season, Barbara falls hard for dental student Mark Royer (Boyd Gaines). The two eventually tie the knot, but since the road to wedded bliss in a Norman Lear series is never smooth sailing, tensions rise when Ann finds herself in love with Barbara’s father-in-law Sam (WKRP in Cincinnati’s Howard Hesseman). The ninth and final season of One Day at a Time saw major changes, as Anne and Sam marry, leaving them to work on creating a life together.
While the envelope pushing nature of other Norman Lear series including All in the Family, Maude, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman can occasionally make the antics of One Day at a Time seem woefully out of date, the three women at the heart of the show–excitable MacKenzie Phillips, the appealing Valerie Bertinelli, and Bonnie Franklin’s self-assurance make nearly every episode a pleasure to watch. And who can forget Pat Harrington, Jr.? His sense of comic timing as Schneider is pure gold.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the show was recorded with standard definition equipment. Considering their age, the episodes look quite good, perhaps just not as bright as a modern production.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital mono. The levels are well balanced, meaning the live audience doesn’t ruin the best lines with laughter. All episodes are Closed Captioned.
The following extras are available:
- MacKenzie Phillips & Glenn Scarpelli: One Day Later (28:52) The two actors discuss growing up on television. Phillips shares that fact that Bonnie Franklin initially felt she was too old to play her daughter on the series. Scarpelli discusses how Pat Harrington was a bit of a mentor for him, expressing excitement when the young teen elicited laughter from the studio audience.
- One Day At A Time Reunion (38:43) is a vintage special that features Mackenzie, Valerie, Bonnie and Pat. The special originally aired in 2005. Bonnie passed away in 2013 and Pat died in 2016.
- This Is It: The Story of One Day At A Time (30:28) has Norman Lear talk about fighting CBS to get a series starring a divorced woman. Bonnie Franklin talks about the responsibility she felt to an audience that deeply identified with the show.
Movie title: One Day At A Time - The Complete Series
Actor(s): Bonnie Franklin , Valerie Bertinelli Mackenzie Phillips , Pat Harrington Jr. Glenn Scarpelli , Boyd Gaines, Michael Lembeck
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Coming of age