Grace and Frankie is the new Netflix series brought to us by Marta Kaufman of Friends fame.The show is a modern day Odd Couple with Grace (Jane Fonda as the uptight control freak) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin as the new age, pot smoking hippy) forced into living together after their husbands reveal that they are gay and have been having an affair for the past 20 years.
I finished the series with mixed feelings and there were definitely hits and misses.
1. Sam Waterston’s eyebrows: I know I should not be so shallow as to focus on a character’s eyebrows but they drove me to distraction in the first few episodes of the show. They are so prominent and wiggly that they should have their own billing in the credits. Sam Waterston is always a twitchy actor and the eyebrows do not help.
2. Jane Fonda overacts: I love Jane Fonda but she has a tendency to overact, especially during highly comedic scenes. Her mouth is saying her lines but her body is saying, “Look! I am an actress! Look at me with all the acting!” I forgive her but there are times when I wanted to put her in a time out.
3. The tone of the show is uneven: The show is supposed to be a comedy and the early episodes try to live up to that with mixed results. In later episodes, however, the show shakes off the scenes that seem like they should come with laugh tracks for real interactions that are far more impactful and make you smile if not laugh out loud.
4. Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston are not a believable couple: There are always questions about whether gay actors can play straight but rarely do we talk about straight actors playing gay. I have tremendous respect for both Martin Sheen (Robert) and Sam Waterston (Saul) but they have little chemistry. Waterston has great chemistry with Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have chemistry that builds through the series. Sadly, Sheen has little chemistry with anybody which makes the premise of the show hard to believe.
1. The relationship between Grace and Frankie: They start out not liking each other but begin to see each other fully, develop compassion for each other, share secrets and support each other when they feel most alone. These are women with complicated histories filled with regrets and mistakes and they were only friends because their husbands were friends and business partners. Their friendship takes center stage and they move beyond caricatures to something real.
2. Briana: Both couples have children and they all play prominent roles in the story. The true standout of the bunch is Briana who provides plenty of comic relief as Grace’s bitchy daughter. Over the course of 13 episodes, we get to see her as more than that however. She is deeply damaged by her parents’ coldness and efforts to present the perfect family to the world but she is also funny, loyal and surprisingly compassionate. I loved every minute she was on screen.
3. Storylines tackle aging: From the very beginning, Grace and Frankie talk openly about their fear about divorcing in their 70’s and facing old age in a way they never imagined. In later episodes, they talk about sex and sexuality as older women right down to the importance of lube. It is refreshing to see older women portrayed as sexual beings and to see issues of aging as an integral part of the story.
4. We see the challenges of coming out later in life: Robert and Saul have been married to their wives for 40 years when they come out. Not only do they have to deal with the shock of friends and family, they have to face homophobia that is often a hallmark of the older generation. At Robert and Saul’s bachelor party, things get a little wild when Briana rents a mechanical penis for guests to ride. One of Robert’s oldest friends turns on Robert saying that he never thought Robert would throw his “lifestyle” in his face and says, “I don’t have a problem with you being a homosexual but when did you become such a faggot?” It’s a powerful scene that shows the unique challenges of coming out later in life.
The show is billed as a comedy which is a disservice. Yes, there are some laughs but the best parts of the show are not the quips but the poignant portrayal of friendships forged over time and the peek into the lives of four characters aging and figuring out what the rest of their lives will look like.