One Day at a Time: Season 4 Episode 2 Review (Penny Pinching)

Is it hard to guess what was addressed in this week's entry in ODAAT by glancing at the title?  Penny Pinching may sound like a run-of-the-mill sitcom plot regarding the cast's money woes, but One Day at a Time has always achieved an artful balance bouncing between simplicity and complexity.  As an example, plot focuses came from pot stickers, a couch, crabs and a laptop in this episode.  How did these abstract elements meld together?  In a one sentence summary, the episode was catalyzed by an embarrassing happy hour bill for Penelope (Justina Machado), forcing her to let loose on her spending for both needs, as well as others' disasters that come her way.

The polarizing element of Penny Pinching is not a topical one, but rather a simple episode debuted against a complex time with COVID19 paralyzing the nation with plague and depression.  The episode was evidently (and thankfully) filmed long before the shutdowns and featured two touchy topics: restaurants, and money.  Penny Pinchers opens like a typical ODAAT episode with the family out to dinner/happy hour and a conflict arises over the bill.  Penelope's family remains embarrassed at her loud theatrics over a $13 pricing difference, thus setting off the remaining plotlines.  A luxury and a throwback to simpler times, as of April 2020, most if not all restaurants in America have shut down dine-in eating due to COVID19.  ODAAT helped distract its homebound audiences with fantasy as they cannot wait to get back to their beloved eateries rather than acknowledge a bleak, ongoing situation.

Deeper into Penny Pinching (which perhaps would have been more comically titled "Penelope Pinching."), Schneider (Todd Grinnell) delivers simplistic and sage advice as he advises Penelope she's always believing scarcity will happen.  Again, this was (thankfully) filmed prior to COVID19 when panicking asshats gouged supermarket shelves and suddenly toilet paper was no longer part of a middle schooler's prank but a prized status symbol.  These stark oversites perhaps aid the audience as it will help them realize simpler times will be back after these complicated ones.  Ergo, Schneider eventually (and more forcefully) pushes Penelope to purchase a new couch and relinquish her fear and control.

The coup de grace of COVID 19-oblivious storytelling is Penelope's epiphany is she realizes she has always had a stormy relationship with money.  A poignant, moving discussion came when she told Elena (Isabella Gomez) after their father left, they were [living with Lydia] instead of Lydia (Rita Moreno) living with them.  Financial troubles are a tale as old as time, yet many in the last six weeks have had them become a devastating reality.  ODAAT's timing may be rubbing salt in the wounds, but it also stands as a testament that several have faced financial hardships and somehow survived.

Penny Pinching almost surpassed the S4 premiere "Checking Boxes" as it towed a finer balance between simplicity and complexity.  In these dire times, we need Lydia oblivious as to why a bus driver refused service as she had "a case of crabs" (that was actually a G-rated intention, as pictured in the box), or a strong heroine such as teenage Elena showing even hapless teenagers can be planners and demonstrate responsibility.  The episode was a near masterpiece, with the greatest criticism paid to none of the males had relevant material besides one-line punches in the episode.

Grade: A-

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