One Day at a Time: Season 4, Episode 5 (Perfect)

In an episode titled "Perfect," all would expect Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) to be a raging perfectionist pushing all around her.  Surprising she was the level, collected force in this episode.  Perfect was indeed enjoyable but failed to outshine the theses in the prior four episodes.  Episodes 1-4 worked with the six principles (and uniquely assimilated India de Beaufort, Ed Quinn and Sheridan Pierce side players) streamed into one theme.  "Perfect" bisected the episode into two folds -- the drama in the Alvarez household, and Schneider's flat upstairs.  It is welcome to see the male cast members working with meatier material, and hopefully the next time they are on display the cast will have one story going on.  And perhaps in more of a welcome inanimate guest star, Lydia's drapes.

Most sitcoms with with a primary and secondary plot, or "A story" and "B story."  Perfect featured this though intersections were scarce.  The "A" and "B" element stories contrasted without a common theme beside the word titling the episode.  Downstairs, life centers around the teenage woes of Alex (Marcel Ruiz) and Elena (Isabella Gomez) muddling through their futures (always welcome).  Upstairs, Schneider (Todd Grinnell) and Avery (de Beaufort) jump started their story with Ruckus the clown whose IMDB resume includes The Poltergeist, Scary Movie 2 and both It films.  How do these two plots coincide?  Perhaps as well as mayonnaise and chocolate cake.  Both plots were successful yet failed to bake into a successful episode.

The disappointing element was this was Marcel Ruiz' opportunity to have the spotlight and the disorganized chaos overshadowed him (again).  Ruiz' performance is the calmest among the cast which is welcome in a fiery, eccentric and overwhelming cast.  The three ladies in Alex's family can command and overdo an episode at the drop of a hat.  And his fellow males Schneider and Leslie (Stephen Tobolowsky) are eccentric scene stealers.  When Alex is front and center, Ruiz knocks it out of the park as the definition of a teenager, as proven when he was busted vaping in Season 3.  "Perfect" failed to showcase Alex's venture as he first asks for $500 from his head(s) of the household, inside 10 minutes divulging he desires to take a fashion design class.  The Netflix version would have played the mystery for an episode, figuring out what Alex wants the money for before launching the follow-up.  The mystery is solved inside an anti-climatic scene featuring ODAAT's best featured player -- Lydia's drapes.  The shocker was instead of her graceful hands gripping them, they instead were fiercely handled by Penelope.  The drapes became more memorable than Alex divulging the mystery.

The mystery was he wanted to take a fashion design class, with Penelope being uncharacteristically calm and supportive.  The brief glory was Lydia and Penelope switch roles as the supporting female, welcome indeed.  Penelope's calmness almost flattened the episode, save for the final third which she unload in the expected parenting.  Lined in between the Alvarez plot is Elena spastically figuring out her Yale entrance essay.  Initially perceived to be a predominant plot, it turns to side fodder in no time flat with Elena devolving to cartoonish.  Gomez has proven she can carry an episode , whether as the main course or side player.  Still, Elena could have proven as effective in mention without visual in this episode, a failure in utilizing the cast. 

Upstairs, Leslie bestows a family heirloom unto Schneider and Avery -- his beloved childhood toy, Ruckus the clown.  It would appear having a demonic toy in their possession would be Schneider and Avery's central focus given their supporting status.  Their centralized theme could have commanded an entire episode as the two overthink Leslie's ominous comment of having children destroyed his marriage, leading to conflicts atop of the Alvarez flat.  The "A" and "B" plots of course beautifully resolve by the close with downstairs featuring the lesson of nothing comes easy and keep trying, while upstairs features a breathtaking moment and learning sometimes we overthink what others say. 

The A and B plot in "Perfect" were successful, but perhaps could have worked better as two episodes.  Alex's fashion design arc, as well as Schneider and Avery's fight were two worthy stories.  The trouble is too many beats (and characters) were missed compacting the action into 21 minutes.  Schneider would have tooled perfectly into Alex giving up too easily, and Lydia and Penelope would have plied perfectly into discussing marital and familial woes.  Regardless of how this bisected episode played out, both folds advanced plots.  It is unfortunate only one more episode is to come till the "mid season finale" due to COVD-19, but again let's enjoy the factor that One Day at a Time survived the cancellation plague that was 2019.

Grade: C+

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