DVD Review: One Day At A Time (The Complete Series)

Norman Lear dominated sitcoms during the mid-70s. After CBS’ Rural Purge, the television producer started accumulating time slots with hits that have remained popular after all these decades including All In the Family, Maude, Good Times, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons. In right before Christmas of 1975, Lear debuted another hit with One Day At A Time created by writers Whitney Blake and Allan Manings. The series followed a newly divorced mother doing her best to raise two daughters, reclaim her role in the work world and occasionally meet a new guy or two. One Day At A Time: The Complete Series contains all 208 episodes that ran over nine seasons.

Ann Romano (Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Revue‘s Bonnie Franklin) has just divorced her husband and relocated to an apartment building in Indianapolis, Indiana with her two daughters. Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) is the rebellious teen wanting to fit in with the new high schools. Barbara (Valarie Bertinelli) is tries to do good, but she likes to pick at her sister. They’re a bit of a handful for a mother who no longer wants to rely her ex-husband to instill discipline in the girls. She constantly struggles to find a real job after being a stay at home mother for a while. The dating part doesn’t seem to be a real burden. There’s plenty of guys lining up for her attention however not all applicants are worth her time. The first guy in line turns out to be David Kane (Risky Business‘s Richard Masur), Ann’s divorce lawyer. He thinks there’s something there since Ann did move into his apartment building. But she’s uncomfortable with him being younger. His lawyer character moves out of town during the second season. The second man eager for hooking up with the new tenant is Schneider (The Steve Allen Show‘s Pat Harrington Jr.), the building’s supervisor. The early episodes have him as an extremely creepy character coming up with excuses to sneak into Ann’s apartment. He’s like a villain in a Lifetime movie as he does his best to go beyond just being her supervisor. Luckily Schneider’s character gets toned down so he isn’t always a stalker. He eventually becomes a member of the family and a slight father figure to the girls.

The girls do want their dad and mother back which leads to the finale of the first season “Dad Comes Back” when they think Ed (Mannix‘s Joseph Campanella) and Ann have reconciled. Is this show about to change direction and be about a could giving a second chance to love? Of course not. The two have just quit being evil to each other which happens sometimes to divorced couples.

Ann Romaro wasn’t the first divorced mother on a hit sitcom. That role appears to have belonged to Vivian (Vivian Vance) on The Lucy Show. Except that show didn’t seem to address that issue and had the children vanish so it was just Lucy and Vivian’s goofy adventures. Ann dealt with the harsh realities and struggles of the divorced life. The series dealt with how people imagined divorced women were ready to hop in the sack with anyone. The show removed certain stigmas from people who understood that sometimes you realize your spouse isn’t your life partner and you can’t be with them anymore.

During the sixth season Ann got serious with Nick Handris (Gotham‘s Ron Rifkin) who was so comfortable, he often brought his son Alex (Glenn Scarpelli) around the apartment. This leads to a shocking start of season seven with Nick gets killed by drunk driver and Ann agrees to raise Alex. This is a good move since by this point Mackenzie had been removed from the show due to substance abuse issues. At the time, people did make fun of her as a problem actor without anyone knowing how messed up her life had become. Alex provided the juggling act Ann needed in her home with Barbara. Mackenzie did get straightened out and returned to the show as a recurring character. The best Alex episode is Catcher in the Mud. Schneider and his lodge buddies including the legendary Chuck McCann (Far Out Space Nuts) decide to give Alex a man’s night out by taking him to see mud wrestling. There is actual mud wrestling on the show although it ends with two regulars facing off. There’s also an amazing familiar face in “Shake Hands.” Take a close look at the waiter. It’s John Densmore, the drummer of The Doors.

Both girls end up getting married in comical ways. Julie thinks she’s marrying one guy, but decides at the last minute that she really likes his best friend (Kaptain Kool and the Kongs‘ Michael Lembeck). She has to make up her mind since they have a deposit on the ceremony. Barbara falls madly for Mark Royer (Boyd Gaines) a dental student and eventually ties the knot, but his leads to confusion when Ann finds herself attracted to Mark’s Dad (WKRP‘s Howard Hesseman). The final season of the show changes completely as we see Ann trying to make things work with her new husband.

The interesting thing about that winter season when One Day At a Time premiered, Lear also introduced Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a spoof of soap operas. While One Day is a sitcom, it’s a bit of a soap opera since we are following the characters over their lives. You are really watching this family and their building supervisor grow and change over the course of 9 seasons. The series truly wraps up with an empty apartment in the second to last episode. The final episode was a backdoor pilot for a series about Schnieder moving to Florida which was rejected. But at least it allowed fans to think he was in a warmer place and not just waiting for the next divorcee to sign the lease. One Day At A Time was more than a sit-com. The series gave people a sense of things that awaited you when you decided to stop being married.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The series was recorded with standard definition video equipment. The episodes for the most part look fine. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are good so that the live audience doesn’t stop on the best lines with laughter. The episodes are Closed Captioned.

Mackenzie Phillis & Glenn Scarpelli One Day Later (28:52) has the duo talking about growing up on TV as Julie sits downw with Alex. Mackenzie points out how Bonnie Franklin thought Mackenzie was tool old to play her daughter at first. There’s a bit of talk about how the show represented a divorce family on the small screen. Glenn talks about the nurturing nature of Pat Harrington. He was proud when his young co-star nailed laughs from the live audience.

One Day At A Time Reunion (38:43) is a vintage special that features Mackenzie, Valerie, Bonnie and Pat. Bonnie brings up how both of her TV daughters are now divorced single mothers. 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 from the show to an audience that deeply identified with the situation.

Shout! Factory presents One Day At A Time: The Complete Series. Starring: Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Pat Harrington Jr. Boxset contents: 208 episodes on 27 DVDs. Release Date: December 5, 2017.

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