Behind the Scenes of Queer, Latina Remake of 'One Day at a Time'

Television writer Michelle Badillo discusses how her own experiences influenced her work on the new Netflix series.

|
Jan 8 2017, 6:30pm

When the original One Day at a Time premiered in 1975, executive producer Norman Lear made television history by launching a female-driven sitcom about a divorced single mom. The show aired for ten years and lived on in syndication. Queer television writer Michelle Badillo grew up on reruns, watching it in her Forest Hills, Queens apartment with her own divorced mom. Now living in Los Angeles, Badillo, 24, is the youngest writer on the newly revamped One Day at a Time, premiering this weekend on Netflix.

"It freaks my mom out that she loved the show so much as a kid, grew up to live that exact life, and now I'm writing on this show," Badillo says.

Like Badillo, the characters on the new show are Latina. The remake centers around a Cuban mom and her kids living in an apartment in Echo Park, the traditionally Latino Los Angeles neighborhood that has recently been gentrified by coffee shops and vegan restaurants. Legendary EGOT Rita Moreno joins the cast as the grandmother Lydia, a Cuban immigrant who has lived the Latina American dream. This week, we sat down with Badillo to talk Latinos on TV, queer culture in mainstream Hollywood, and that time Mischa Barton played a lesbian on The O.C.

BROADLY: As an Argentinian and Puerto Rican woman, what was the experience of writing a Cuban family like?
Michelle Badillo : The writers' room was a lesson in what we already knew, which is the most specific is the most universal. Half of the writers in the room were Latino, and two were Cuban, but it was easy for all of us to apply our own experiences to this family. Latinos are specific, but we're also not. We just have a context that hasn't been explored much on TV. Nobody thinks of white people as being culturally specific, especially in media, because white people are still considered what's normal, but there's so many Latinos in this country.

Read more: The Changing Story of Abortion on Television

Who were your favorite Latina characters on TV growing up?
The first Latina TV actress I remember is Eva Longoria on Desperate Housewives, when I was in middle school. I don't remember watching any other Latina characters before that, mostly because I don't think there really were any. It's not like Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz were doing TV. There were some ethnically ambiguous actresses who could have been Latina, but you never really knew. Being Latina wasn't actually a part of their characters. With One Day at a Time, it was important that besides casting Latino people, the characters and stories also had to feel Latino. We didn't want this to feel like any other show but with brown faces.

What's your reaction to when people say diversity is "trending"?
As we wrote this show last year, most other Latino shows got cancelled or failed to get picked up after their pilot was made, essentially all of them except Jane the Virgin. All of a sudden, there was supposedly going to be all these Latina shows, but Telenovela got cancelled. Cristela got cancelled. So while more Latino shows might be getting a shot, there are still only a couple on air at a time. It feels false to say Latino shows are trending when there's now just two or three instead of none.

Read more on Broadly.