One Day: A realistic portrayal of love and life

Meghan Boucher ‘27/Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

One July 15th, 1988 Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall) and Emma Morley (Ambika Mod)  meet on the night of their college graduation. What follows is a decades-long whirlwind of friendship, heartache, and romance. Netflix’s One Day is based on the novel of the same name by David Nicholls, and was previously adapted as a movie in 2011, but this limited series encapsulates all the ups and downs of the story in a compelling way.  

Each episode follows Dex and Emma on July 15th year after year. The audience is able to watch them as they grow and change. Even when their choices are frustrating, joyous, or utterly heartbreaking, there is this thread of realism that runs throughout the entire show. 

This is entirely due to the chemistry and humanity that Woodall and Mod bring to their respective characters. Not only do they cultivate a friendship the audience stays invested in, but they also make Dex and Emma their own characters. While the relationship between the two is the main point of the show, they still grow as individuals. 

Some select episodes throughout the series specifically highlight this, as some years on July 15th, Dex and Emma are apart. These episodes are where the acting chops of Woodall and Mod shine. However, sometimes these episodes feel like they detract from the pacing of the show. It can be disappointing to feel so invested in this relationship and then not get an episode of them together. But, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. One Day depicts life in a raw, unfiltered way that leans away from glamorization. So when the audience feels disappointed by not having an episode focused on the main relationship, it almost elicits the same feelings the characters are going through on that day too. 

Beyond the acting however, One Day was able to depict this sense of passing time. The show takes place over the course of twenty years and that comes through with the use of makeup and costuming. Dex and Emma feel like young twenty-somethings with carefree attitudes in the first part of the show. Their casual clothes and messy hair are small details, but create the atmosphere of two twenty year olds growing up in the early 90s. As they change and age, they become much more sophisticated in their dress and appearance. It seems trivial, but when the whole gimmick of a show is observing these characters age over time, the small choices become crucial. The costumes and makeup not only show Dex and Emma grow into their late thirties, but they also serve as a fashion barometer in a sense. From Dex’s neon jackets in the early 90s to his more muted and simple fitted button downs in the last few episodes set in the early 2000s, the costumes keep a pulse on the changing trends of the times.

The spectacular soundtrack conveys the passage of time as well. Obviously Woodall and Mod are the heart of the show, but the music serves as a beating pulse that pushes the narrative forward emotionally. From Nick Drake, to the Velvet Underground, to Jeff Buckley, and Blur, the soundtrack blends a wide array of music. Each song is perfectly placed to elicit humor, love, sadness, and happiness. But music isn’t the only element that creates these emotions. 

The peripheral characters feel fully fleshed out, and although the audience might not see them every episode they remain an integral part of the storyline. Two standouts are Dexter’s mom Alison, played by Essie Davis, and Emma’s best friend Tilly, played by Amber Grappy. These two characters not only encourage the growth of Dex and Emma, but also exist as their own beings, with their own ideas, ambitions, and goals. It was always a pleasant surprise when the two would show up in an episode, and it was intriguing to observe how other relationships in Dex and Emma’s lives influenced their choices. 

Despite all the superb aspects of the show, One Day is not entirely perfect. The biggest weakness of the show might just be the structure itself. Each episode taking place on one specific day means that the audience misses a lot in the lives of the characters. Monumental things occur and the audience is told they happen, rather than getting to see it. It feels a bit cheap, as the audience has grown to care about the characters and yet they still miss out on so much of their lives. On the one hand, this helps to demonstrate the very purpose of the show; life moves fast. Sometimes experiences are lived and other times they are missed out on completely. But, it feels disappointing when the audience grows so invested in the story of Dex and Emma and never truly sees the full blossoming of their relationship. The audience can never sit with any emotion before they are catapulted into the next year (or episode) and suddenly, the stakes have changed and everything feels different. This whiplash effect is especially present in the last two episodes. The penultimate episode and the finale are the most compelling of the series. It’s an emotional medley that depicts Dex and Emma in their rawest, most fully realized selves. However, so much is packed into the final two episodes that the audience has no time to process their own emotions or thoughts. The ending comes and the audience leaves feeling a bit unfulfilled. And yet, it’s not disappointing. 

Over the course of the show the audience gets to grow with the characters. Watching these people change, even if they are fictional, is beautiful and strikingly human. So even though the show ends on an unsatisfying note, it maintains the thread of realism throughout. That’s not to say the show is utterly depressing; there’s moments where the audience is left heartbroken, elated, and even confused. What One Day does best is remind the audience of what life truly is like. It’s not always romantic or perfect, it’s messy and unpredictable, and it reminds the audience how important it is to show love to those around you not one day, but every day. 

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