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Season 3 of 'One Day at a Time' arrives with star-studded lineup

New members of the family are introduced, including the feisty grandmother's sister, played by music icon Gloria Estefan.
The new season introduces Melissa Fumero, Gloria Estefan and Stephanie Beatriz as extended members of the Alvarez family.
The new season introduces Melissa Fumero, Gloria Estefan and Stephanie Beatriz as extended members of the Alvarez family.Ali Goldstein / Netflix

“One Day at a Time” fans, cheer up — your favorite zany but endearing bicultural, multigenerational family is back. The Netflix show’s third season was released Friday featuring a high-octane lineup that left even the lead actress "kind of fangirling."

The show is a remake of Norman Lear’s 1970s groundbreaking hit show of the same name about a divorced mother raising her two teenage daughters. In the new version, actress Justina Machado plays Penelope Alvarez, a recently divorced Afghanistan War veteran raising her two children, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz), alongside her own feisty and dramatic mother, Lydia Riera (Rita Moreno).

Season Three shows the Alvarez family growing larger, adding some big stars to the cast.

One of the big plotlines is that after 20 years of not speaking to each other over a misplaced mantilla (a lace veil or shawl handed down through generations to be worn on one’s wedding day), Rivera and her younger sister, Mirta — played by music legend Gloria Estefan — are finally on speaking terms. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-stars Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero also make an appearance as Penelope’s cousins Estrellita and Pilar.

Machado told NBC news in a recent interview that she was star-struck on the set.

“I become like mute,” she said, laughing. “was kind of fangirling because I didn’t know what to say. We were in the makeup room together and I was shy. But she’s [Estefan] so down-to-earth and warm that she just brings it out of you.”

True to the two previous seasons, the new episodes juxtapose hilarious moments while tackling weighty issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, a teen’s coming out as gay, and societal prejudice against ethnic groups.

One particularly striking episode of Season Three is episode two, “Outside,” in which the Alvarez family and its building superintendent and family friend “Schneider” have an honest conversation about consent. The episode highlights the different ways in which three generations of women — Lydia, Penelope and Elena — have been conditioned to deal with sexual harassment.

“La abuela (the grandmother, Lydia) is a little more old school and a little bit more like ‘Ay, nena, (Oh, girl) it’s no big deal, that means you’re beautiful, it’s okay.' Penelope’s character is a lot more — 'it’s kind of how I was raised — where you make excuses for that behavior,'” said Machado. “You try to twist it.”

"One Day at a Time" uses comedy to confront the most topical issues of our time.
"One Day at a Time" uses comedy to confront the most topical issues of our time.Ali Goldstein / Netflix

But Elena, the teenage daughter, rejects the perspectives of her mother and grandmother.

“Elena’s like ‘No! That’s not the way it is!'” Machado said. “I love that about young people —there is no gray; it’s black and white and I think that’s how you change the world.”

“One Day at a Time’s” family is Cuban American, living in Los Angeles, and it’s loosely based on showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett’s own life; her parents and grandparents immigrated to the United States after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba.

The sitcom recently adopted the tagline “An American Familia,” because that’s what “we are,” according to Calderón Kellett, who also spoke to NBC News about the new season.

“We are constantly trying to figure out who we are and where we're from, and that's the kind of stuff that we like to talk about on the show, because I think it's very real for people who are a few generations in,” Kellett said.

“They’re trying to figure out who am I as an American, what is America to me, what is my American family?” Kellett said. “To be able to be part of that narrative, to be able to have something positive out there that is also representing us, it means everything.”

Kellett said being the daughter of immigrants is what has shaped her drive to succeed and excel in a tough business.

“I'm a first generation kid. There is something that first generation kids carry with them. They carry the sacrifice of their parents with them in everything they do,” she said. “There’s not a day that I'm in this country that I don't think about my grandparents, and the difficult decision they made to send their children to the United States when things were crazy in Cuba, and how scary that must have been for them and how my parents came not knowing a word of English and thrived."

She remembers with a tinge of sadness the many instances when her mother told her while she was growing up to focus on speaking English like the people on television; her mother had a strong accent and didn’t want her daughter to have an accent. These kinds of instances have been woven into the show’s plotlines.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition has called the show “a guiding light — the true north in and for an industry grappling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusivity.”

Creating a more diverse and inclusive Hollywood is one of Kellett’s goals — “One Day at a Time” is just the beginning, she said.

“We also have an incredible group of writers in the room, half of which are Latinx and half of which are female —three of which are queer — and we get to talk about real things that happen,” Kellett said. “Equity really does make every workplace better.”

The “One Day at a Time” showrunner said she is working on other show ideas and projects and would love to be “the Latina Shonda,” referring to Hollywood powerhouse producer Shonda Rhimes, the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”

“What I mean by that is Shonda Rhimes is somebody who is the 'see it to be it.' You need to see it to be it,” she said. “And to me, here’s this amazing woman of color, a mom, a vibrant voice who has many shows on the air that reflect her America.”