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‘One Day’ tells a gut-wrenching, authentic story of young love

Image used with permission from Netflix Media Center
The Netflix show “One Day” has become a new sensation, garnering 5.3 million views in its first four days on Netflix, according to Variety. The show secured first place on the streaming platform’s top 10 list in the U.K.

Netflix’s new series “One Day” is a love story with a controversial ending, as millions who read the bestselling novel by David Nicholls – or watched the disappointing film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess – are already well aware.

What sets this retelling apart is lead writer Nicole Taylor’s careful attention to the protagonists’ evolution from wide-eyed students into adults weathered by life’s challenges. Even if you don’t like the destination, it’s a journey worth taking.

The story revolves around an unlikely couple: the gritty and serious-minded Emma Morley, played by Ambika Mod, and the privileged playboy Dexter Mayhew portrayed by Leo Woodhall. Starting at their University of Edinburgh graduation ball when they meet, the 14-episode drama follows Emma and Dexter on the same day, July 15, for 15 successive years.

In their early 20s, Dexter and Emma have distinct visions for their lives. Dexter, with his affluent background, lacks motivation but exudes unwavering confidence. His arrogance often leads him to take advantage of his loved ones. Emma, on the other hand, faces challenges when her carefully laid-out plans don’t unfold as expected.

“One Day” departs from the stereotypical portrayal of the carefree 20-something years found in shows like “Friends” or “Emily in Paris.” Instead, it offers a more nuanced view. The series explores the pains of being a young adult: dealing with loss, changing friendships, career uncertainties and what feels like earth-shattering romances. Dexter grapples with the pitfalls of fame, while Emma struggles to find fulfillment in her teaching career. They have romances with other people but never resolve the feelings they have for one another, which flare up on Greek beaches and in Parisian apartments.

The beauty of “One Day” lies in its ability to unfold its narrative slowly. There is no instant gratification. Instead, the audience is kept on their toes as they gradually, and sometimes torturously, witness Emma’s snippy remarks and Dexter’s perpetual playboy persona.

The series also magnificently captures nostalgia with glossed-over moments such as a boozy graduation ball, a hazy summer evening spent drinking wine on London’s Primrose Hill and a midnight heart-to-heart in the middle of a lamplit maze. The atmospherics are enhanced by an evocative soundtrack featuring Lambchop, The Magnetic Fields, Joan Armatrading and Jeff Buckley.

While the structure of the series could come off as a gimmick, the unfolding plotline deserves multiple episodes after the 2011 film adaptation that races from one year to the next, sacrificing character development in its rush to check off plot points. Instead, the series uses its more generous runtime to dig deep into the pains of early adulthood and how they shape Emma and Dexter. As different as the two characters are, and as often as they fall out, it’s always clear why these polar opposites attract.

Like many great romantic comedies, “One Day” is also full of tantalizing what-ifs. What if Emma hadn’t left her house five seconds before a distressed Dexter called her from a railway station? What if they had actually kissed that summer evening on Primrose Hill? Those near-misses hit you right in the gut, intensifying the theme of unrequited love.

Perhaps my only complaint is “One Day”’s occasional inaccuracy in depicting the time period it portrays. It can be frustrating to witness Dexter in a sharply tailored modern suit, claiming it’s 1992, or watch scenes of London that lack effort in capturing a 90s aesthetic.

Despite this, there’s an undeniable cozy comfort to this series. It isn’t a Hallmark movie, but rather a narrative much closer to real life. Dexter and Emma’s story is filled with awkward interchanges, uncomfortable dates and plenty of regrets. Happy endings aren’t assured. Hard work doesn’t always mean you make it on top. Yet, it is so deeply compelling to watch Dexter and Emma persist, one day after another.

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About the Contributor
Zoe Karibian, Media Team
Zoe Karibian ('26) is a member of the Media Team for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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