|One Day at a Time: The Complete First Season (1975)
Starring: Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli, Pat Harrington, Jr., Richard Masur, Joseph Campanella
The Great Norman Lear Closet Cleaning continues!
So let’s see, what’s currently available on DVD from one of television’s all-time greatest sitcom creators and producers? In the massively interconnected world of “All of the Family,” we’ve got the prime seasons of the adventures of the Bunkers and Stivics, as well as those of the Jeffersons (both are up to season six), plus the entire run of “Good Times” and, most recently, the first season of “Maude.” You’ve also got all six seasons of “Sanford and Son,” which Lear co-created with Bud Yorkin, and the first volume of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” episodes, which Lear produced. If you want to get really tangential, Lear’s production company was responsible for “Diff’rent Strokes” (seasons one and two) and “The Facts of Life” (seasons one through three) as well as “Who’s The Boss” and “227” (first seasons only).
Now at bat, “One Day at a Time: The Complete First Season,” which Lear developed.
“One Day at a Time” stayed in the limelight over the years because of the trials and tribulations endured by cast member Mackenzie Phillips (as anyone who’s seen her “E! True Hollywood Story” knows), and it also pulls in a certain bemusement factor because Phillips’ sister in the series was played by the former Mrs. Van Halen, Valerie Bertinelli. Try to gloss over all the controversy, though, because this sitcom holds up rather well. Possibly (if unfortunately) because divorcees with kids are more popular than ever these days.
Bonnie Franklin stars as Ann Romano, recently divorced and now living in an apartment with her two teenage daughters, Julie (Phillips) and Barbara (Bertinelli). It’s established up front that Ann’s ex-husband (Joseph Campanella) is the only man she’s ever been with, and now that she’s entering the dating world, she finds herself torn between exploring all of the options available to her and falling back on the comfort of starting a romantic relationship with her longtime friend, lawyer David Kane (Richard Masur). Meanwhile, the apartment’s superintendent, Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington Jr.), is constantly dropping by to indicate that, y’know, if Mrs. Romano wanted to try his wares, so to speak, they’re available for the taking. Schneider’s one of the great sitcom characters of the ‘70s, managing to be vaguely lecherous (but, thankfully, without getting too detailed with his offers) while offering no end of mostly unhelpful advice, usually delivered in his standard malapropism-laden manner. (David makes the very accurate observation that “never in my life have I known someone who knew so little about so much.”)
Creators Whitney Blake and Allan Manings are a husband-and-wife team who had actually been actors in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Blake is probably best remembered by you oldsters for her role as “Mrs. B” in “Hazel.” There are only 15 episodes in this first season, but Blake and Manings do a nice job of splitting up the plots so that the focus bounces from character to character. Ann’s newly-single status is referenced pretty consistently, but between David and Schneider’s flirtations, that’s pretty unavoidable. Otherwise, however, there are episodes on Ann looking for a job, her budding feminism, Julie and Barbara dealing their respective levels of peer pressure, the ongoing father-vs.-mother battle that comes with any divorce, and even one where Schneider gets the spotlight. The rapport between Franklin and Masur hits just the right notes, as does the way Franklin’s tone changes abruptly from “completely stressed out” to “unconditional love” when talking to the girls. Phillips does have a tendency to yell through just about any emotional scene, but, then, that’s what angry teenagers tend to do. Bertinelli’s character, meanwhile, is often underwritten, serving more to utter one-liners than provide plot development, but at least the one-liners are funny.
Probably not coincidentally, “One Day at a Time” used to be re-run on E! in the mid-1990s, but it hasn’t gotten much play anywhere in the better part of a decade. (There are reports that it briefly popped up as part of Comcast’s on-demand service, but it sure ain’t there no more.) Unlike so many of its sitcom peers, which seem cheesy and dated now, “One Day at a Time” is worth reinvestigating.Special Features: Well, you’d think there are none at all, given that there’s no mention of any on the box. In fact, I was ready to complain that they didn’t at least add on the 2005 CBS reunion special, but imagine my surprise to pop in the second disc and find that, indeed, it is on here! I can’t believe Sony isn’t trumpeting its inclusion; it’s the kind of feature that would inspire someone who’s on the fence about buying this set to go ahead and take the plunge.