Quick disclaimer here: I did miss Josh from last year. The boy was a sweetheart, and exactly how One Day at a Time (ODAAT) writes really bloody well, he was the furthest thing from the stereotypical jock I was expecting.
That aside, Elena (Isabella Gomez, who just gets more and more hysterical) starts up a gay protest club for literally everything. With the tender social issues covered so eloquently in ODAAT, easily one of the best–if not the best–series I’ve seen of the year so far (I know it’s early, but I’ll be surprised if it’s not right up there with the big-hitters at award season), whenever ODAAT slaps you in the face with some seriously funny stuff, you genuinely don’t just laugh. You, and I’m not ashamed of this, snort beer up your nose.
Literally, that’s what happened when Syd’s ‘Big Ask’ to the prom, for Elena, did to me. And I really want it on my Spotify, so will the ODAAT producers get on that if I ask nicely?
The importance of Syd cannot be lost. Literally. Though they do not feature every episode, Syd’s still a huge part of Elena’s life and immediately slots themselves into the bonkers Alvarez family. And why are they so important?
Because, along with the list I’m gonna make below, there is one reason that trumps them all. Syd is really, really normal. Okay, they take the definition of quirky and run with it, but Syd is normal–or should I say treated like normal. And for a show that has been so hilarious and inspirational this year, the fact that a sweet, cute, non-binary person is so heavily featured on the show and gets the girl she wants is really top stuff.
She’s a non-binary character.
You really don’t see many non-binary characters on TV. I, off the top of my head, genuinely can’t think of one (feel free to correct me) apart from LaFontaine on the webseries Carmilla.
But Syd here, says, right off the bat, they do not conform to gender and explains the “they” pronouns.
Of course, because Lydia (Rita Moreno) is there, it’s a complete mess but it’s good-natured. And the best part? Even though the Alvarezes don’t fully understand what this all means (“My pronouns is Lydia; Lee-deee–ahhh“) they still respect Syd’s pronouns as well as everyone else’s. This is what ODAAT does so well. They slip in some genuinely hysterical nutjob stuff–but they have hearts of gold.
Whenever Syd is taken the mick out of, it’s never because of her gender identity. I think everyone, honestly, has their own opinion about this topic–with varying results. But the most important person in this particular train of thought of Syd themselves (themself?). Even when Alex mocks her outfit, it’s not because of her pronouns; right after, he literally refers to Syd as “they”.
Apart from this, Syd being a non-binary character isn’t even mentioned again, or if it is, then I can’t remember. There is the implication that they don’t have many friends at school, but I can’t tell if that’s because of their atrocious dancing or because of the sadder option–that high-schoolers aren’t as accepting as Elena.
Or dance as badly. See Exhibit A:
ODAAT introduces them not as an non-binary character, but as a dorky, lovable, sweet human being. Their gender non-conformity is a part of them, and always will be, but it is not the most important thing about them. Their willingness to go to Comic-Con as an actual box (sorry, the TARDIS) and their nerves at asking Elena out–these are things teenagers go through.
And that is why this is a point at all. It’s the fact that ODAAT really doesn’t put much importance on Syd’s non-binary status that makes it so special. Yes, this show is proud about their characters’ identities. They are proud Cubans.
Even when Alex doubts he wants to be, in the premiere, he comes around. Syd is proud to be non-binary. But proud Cuban or proud non-binary person, it is not the only special thing about you. And that message in itself is beautiful–just like Elena’s storyline of her being gay changed nothing about her personality.
Elena didn’t care…at all.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Elena didn’t care about Syd’s non-binary status (having said that, Elena is such a Social Justice Warrior that she falls off the SJW scale). Elena liked Syd, and Syd liked Elena. They split a cookie; they dance weirdly; they kiss…And that’s it.
If I never mentioned the fact that Syd goes by “they” pronouns, you would never think twice about the romance between them. That’s how you know it’s been done well. Elena’s openness to Syd is so telling of her generous character. Even more telling is that when Syd hesitates about whether Elena likes them, the reasoning isn’t because they are non-binary. That is never pulled into question. It’s not a thing.
ODAAT has always been a feel-good show. But if this makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside, imagine how great this representation must feel for a lot of non-binary people. It’s such a tender, innocent puppy-love storyline. And sure, they pop-n-lock terribly by the, er, trash cans–but they are having such an ecstatic time that you’d be mistaken for thinking they’re the only two in the gymnasium. It certainly felt that way.
You can have a happy ending, too.
The theme of bullying was tackled pretty early on in the series. Firstly, we had Alex, who decked someone at school after being told to “go back to Mexico”. A typical slur we hear all the time from racist douches.
Then we have Elena’s doubts, thinking the “hard part” (coming out) was over, only to find that not everyone accepted gay people–despite the fact that her Pope-obsessed grandma still accepted her. But unfortunately, even as Penelope assures her the world is changing, the sad truth is, homophobia will never be fully eradicated.
But what ODAAT has done this season has been nothing short of grin-inducing. We were introduced to Syd as an awkward dweeb who was even dweebier than Elena (now that’s saying something). And we mean that in a really, really good way. We really bloody love Syd. But what does Syd do this season?
They join Elena’s little campaign crew, busting up anything and everything worth protesting.
They are welcomed into the Alvarez family, who don’t fully understand the pronoun situation, but a) respect it and b) by God, do they try hard.
They get the girl.