How “One Day at a Time” breaks new ground when it comes to sex and sexuality

“The Talk” is never easy, for teens and parents alike, and that’s why when Penelope and daughter Elena sit down to have it, it’s one of the most important LGBTQ moments we’ve seen on scripted television.  There’s an authenticity to One Day at a Time‘s handling of Elena’s sexuality, and perhaps that is because the show is at its heart, a comedy, and at moments of real connection, they never forget that life can be serious and sweet, funny and frantic, all at the same time. Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen “The First Time” you may want to come back to this later.

Penelope Alvarez is just trying to do the best she can, keeping her family afloat financially and emotionally, while remaining perfectly flawed and human. That’s why her response to finding out that Elena used her credit card as a deposit for a hotel room with Syd, hits her like a ton of bricks. In her heart and mind, she’s been preparing herself to have “the talk” with Elena, but when the moment actually presents itself, she can’t quite wrap herself around it. How do you have “the talk” when the script is very much flipped from your own experience? Well, the answer is…pretty much exactly the same way. That’s where One Day at a Time breaks new ground. (It helps to have queer voices in the writing room, too, and the show is blessed with Janine Brito on staff.) Penelope turns to her support group lesbian friend, Ramona (the always terrific Judy Reyes) for some real talk about non-hetero sex. Penelope learns that besides a few basic differences, Elena is going through much the same thing she did with her first.

Mother and daughter sit down and for the first time that I can recall on a major television platform, discuss sex from a queer woman’s perspective. Penelope doesn’t want to shame her daughter for having sex with Syd, and she also wants to make sure that Elena knows that sex can also come with a lot of emotions and connection that can change everything. Elena opens up, and we see her experience with Syd from her point of view.

Desperate to be alone, Elena and Syd get a hotel room so they can finally, well at least Elena thinks, lose their virginity to each other. When Syd reveals that this is not their first time, Elena goes through the gamut of emotions. For Elena, it’s one thing to step into the unknown with someone on the same footing, but another when suddenly all your insecurities start popping up when you least expected them. For Syd, they are devoted and in love for the first time, and willing to wait for Elena to be 100% ready. This interaction, one that is the opposite of pressure and the epitome of kindness and empathy, helps Elena get past her worries and take that leap with Syd. That she shares this with her mother, shows the trust Elena and Penelope have with each other. Elena is good with her decision, and Penelope supports her daughter’s decision…but that doesn’t mean she gets to have the bedroom door closed now. It’s a parental statement that makes the audience laugh and is something many of us have heard as teens ourselves. The fact that Elena is gay doesn’t change a thing, and that’s pretty darn special.

Season Three of One Day at a Time is available now on Netflix.

 

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2 Comments

  • Beth
    Posted February 13, 2019 12:36 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for this! It was one of my favorite episodes of the season and it was so great to see this topic handled well!

  • Anonymous
    Posted February 13, 2019 10:58 pm 0Likes

    5

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