ILS Faculty Fellow Jason Ruiz featured in NYT article on Latinx sitcom's controversial cancellation

Author: Oliver Ortega

Jason Ruiz

After four seasons as one of the only TV shows starring a Latinx cast, the sitcom “One Day at a Time” will not be renewed by CBS Viacom, the series’s creators announced in December.

ILS Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor Jason Ruiz, of American Studies, was quoted in a New York Times article on the controversial cancellation. The show, about a multigenerational Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles, was originally created as a Netflix series in 2017. The streaming giant served as homebase up to last year, when it was axed for what the company characterized as a lack of viewership.

Amid protests from a loyal fan base, Pop TV, owned by CBS, picked it up for another season in 2019. The effort to keep the show going then included a social media campaign with #SaveODAT as its central hashtag. However, the COVID-19 pandemic this year caused the company to only produce part of the 13 episodes it had planned for before the virus’s outbreak. 

On “One Day at a Time”’s cancellation, Ruiz, the 2019 recipient of the Sheedy Award for Excellence in Teaching, is quoted by NYT journalist Christina Morales as follows:

“To me, it’s a huge loss,” Jason Ruiz, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, said of the show. “There’s been such a desert of Latino representations in English on TV.”

“It makes a bleak media landscape even bleaker,” he added.

As Morales and other critics have pointed out, the show’s tenuous existence is symbolic of a larger lack of Latinx representation across mass media. Morales refers to a 2016 report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that found that only 5.8 percent of speaking or named character TV and film roles were played by Latinos, despite accounting for roughly 18 percent of the country’s population.

The show was also noted for its representation of a lesbian character called Elena, played by Colombian-American actress Isabella Gomez. The plot of “One Day at a Time”, a reboot of a 1970s sitcom that originally starred a European-American family, revolves around Penelope Alvarez, an army nurse corp veteran and single mother portrayed by Justina Machado, who tries to get ahead amid a host of life challenges. 

Immigration, sexism, racism, colorism, and homophobia figure among the show’s themes. Penelope lives with her daughter Elena and her son Alex, played by Marcel Ruiz Perez, as well as her mother Lydia, portrayed by Rita Moreno.

Moreno came to Notre Dame in early 2019 to discuss her life and career as part of a visit organized by the Institute for Latino Studies. She is the first and only Latina to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (EGOT).

Jruiz Article

The actress came as part of the Transformative Latino Leadership Lecture Series, which brings prominent figures in law, entertainment, business, the Catholic Church and other fields to campus. Past guests include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; former San Antonio mayor and U.S. secretary of health and human services Julián Castro; the Most Rev. Jose H. Gómez, archbishop of Los Angeles; and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.  

In the New York Times article, Morales wraps up her discussion of the cancellation by invoking Ruiz:

Family sitcoms are an important medium on TV, Professor Ruiz said. Even including English-language shows like “Jane the Virgin” that portrayed Latino families but were based on telenovelas, Spanish soap operas, depictions of Latino families on mainstream English-language television are comparatively scarce, he said.

“One Day at a Time” was traditional, he said, taking place mostly inside the Alvarez family’s living room. Its characters also went through the same challenges that many other families go through.

“What they were trying to do is cultivate a mainstream audience in a really bold way,” he said. “The more mainstream you are, the most palatable you had to be.”

Speaking personally, Professor Ruiz said “One Day at a Time” was the only show he had ever known to accurately represent his Colombian partner’s immigrant experience.

“You need niche storytelling, and you also need mainstream representation to say that Latino families are a part of this country,” he said. “We are important. We matter.”