There are few writers that were more important to the overall landscape of television than Norman Lear. From the 1950’s to today, Lear has been a comedic genius and workhorse whose job it was to show the world different kinds of people, more realistic people, having discussions you wouldn’t see on other shows of the time. These characters would provide us with laughs, first and foremost but also deal with real issues concerning people of the day. The majority of his hits over the years have stood the test of time and become evergreen favourites. That is what makes the original One Day at a Time such a shocking misstep.
Three years after feminist icon Maude Findlay burst into her own show, One Day At A Time was a series about the newly divorced Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) moving to Indianapolis, Indiana with her two daughters, the rebel Julie, and the good girl Barbra (Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli). We see Ann struggle to balance being a single mother, going to work and maintaining a healthy and really getting to date for the first time in her life. Ann is also helped or hindered depending on the episode by her eccentric, faux-macho building superintendent, Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington Jr.).
While the show overtime becomes a perfectly pleasant way to kill a half hour, if not exactly hilarious, early shows were a slog to get through often relying less on the premise of Ann as an independent woman as unconvincing shouting matches between family members and the problems of the kids. Schneider who later became a loveable oaf that was part of the family originated as more of lecherous, inappropriate creep, entering unannounced with his own key to hit on Ann who would mostly laugh it off. This kind of reaction may have been polite and funny back in the 70’s but in the age of Weinstein, Schneider’s leer is hard to reconcile against the female empowerment that Ann is supposed to represent.
Like any long-running sitcom, One Day At A Time had a fair share of guest stars throughout its nine years. Be on the lookout for episodes starring Mark Hamill six months before Star Wars, Corey Feldman, Jay Leno, Mad Men’s Robert Morse, and one episode featuring pre-fame appearances by Ernie Hudson and Christopher Lloyd
The series is housed in a lovely, thick and sturdy white box with five standard size cases. Each case features multiple discs and two seasons, other than the ninth. The back cover of each features an episode guide. There are 27 discs in all.
Every disc of One Day At A Time: The Complete Series features one the most basic menu screens I’ve ever seen. On one side of the page, there is a cast photo, the other an episode list with a play all option at the top. The show’s theme song “This Is It” will blare as you make a selection but there are no other choices to be made until the final disc’s extras.
Audio and Subtitles
There are no audio options beyond English and no subtitles to speak of. The set is however closed captioned for those who need it.
Shout! Factory really attempts to manage expectations with the video quality of One Day At A Time. Every disc opens with a disclaimer stating that the episodes are presented in the highest quality they could find with the masters they had. Considering the show was filmed on videotape the series, for the most part, looks fine but far from perfect. There are times that the image looks slightly blurred or that parts of the image bleed into other parts. There are points where green or blue ghosting of images appears. There was even a point in the final season episode “Not a Creature was Staying” where the video simply cut out for a few frames. All of this is very unfortunate but hardly surprising considering the format used at the time and much harder to fix now.
A 20-page episode guide with much more detail than the case back cover versions is included in the box. This version gives a brief synopsis of all 208 episodes included in the set and features some cast promo photos.
The first extra on the disc is a brand new 28-minute long interview in widescreen about the program with Mackenzie Phillips who played Julie and Glenn Scarpelli who from seasons 6 to 8 played Alex Handris, the son of one Ann’s boyfriends who she takes in after his father passed away. Mackenzie Phillips and Glenn Scarpelli: One Day Later is very conversational but it feels like only the surface was scratched. They talk about the series as a whole, happy memories of the cast, favourite episodes, why neither of them was there for the show’s final episodes, where they are now in their lives and where they think Alex and Julie would be in theirs.
Held over from Sony’s own release of Season One is the 2005 CBS One Day At A Time Reunion special where Phillips, Franklin, Bertinelli, and Harrington reminisce. Clips from the series abound and some cast members not in the room for that reunion have taped comments spliced in.
The final extra of this rather sad band is the most substantial, a half-hour documentary about the show called This Is It: The Story of One Day At A Time. This looks like it could have been produced around the same time Sony released season one ten years ago but this was not included in that set. (Edit: This Is It: The Story of One Day At A Time was made for The Norman Lear Collection 2009 boxed set devoted to the released previously first seasons of six Lear sitcoms and the first 25 Mary Hartman, Mary Hartmans with then new extras). The most interesting tidbit shared is that Franklin herself thought the show was not working in its first season and went to All in The Family star Carroll O’Connor for advice on how to fix it, basically being told to become the leader of the show backstage that she was inside of it.
It takes time for any show to reach its stride. One Day At A Time took a longer than it should have and didn’t reach the highest of highs but was good enough for a half hour a week. The show was never as funny as All in the Family, as interesting as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, important as Good Times or beyond the theme song all that memorable at all which is a shame. The cast is exceptional but the writing rarely lives up to them. I can’t imagine many people beyond the biggest fans of ODAT shelling out $100 for this set. It’s fine but there are many better shows you could revisit instead. Although if you have your heart set on this franchise, you could just try the new reboot on Netflix.