Culture / Entertainment

Hey Grace and Frankie – Gay People Fuck!

SPOILER ALERT: I’m about to discuss the entire 1st season of Grace & Frankie, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda’s recently released Netflix series.

“Just as people who find the thought of LGBT relationships uncomfortable may still tell a pollster they support gay rights and equality, they also might not mind the character or the funny gay friend or neighbor who comes in and out on a sitcom or drama. They wouldn’t want to see these characters fired from their jobs or prevented from marrying, but they’d also prefer such characters remain sexless and, thus, harmless.” ~Michelangelo Signorile, It’s Not Over

I have resigned myself to the fact that Modern Family is never going to show gay sex. While Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet have great comedic chemistry, the couple Mitch and Cam have zero sexual chemistry and, if they do, we never get to see it because the writers never write it. The same can not be said for their straight counterparts. The storylines about Claire and Phil hooking up are too numerous to count. There was even one episode when their kids walked in on them mid-deed. (Imagine, for a moment, that that had happened to Lily, Mitch, and Cam. No, really, imagine it. I’ll wait.) Gloria and Jay also have a full, well-rounded marriage. But not Mitch and Cam. Mitch and Cam, as far as I can tell, have never had sex.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Grace & Frankie. Not hemmed in by the constraints of a network. A lesbian producer at the helm. Surely this show would depict its central gay couple as experiencing all the facets of couplehood ~ the joys, the trials, the sex. I couldn’t wait.

Sadly, as the episodes wore on, it became apparent that the Michelangelo Signorile quote above was, once again, depressingly accurate.

To be clear, I thought the show had some wonderful acting and moments of truly beautiful writing. I also found it, at times, laugh out loud funny. But after the fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth, eleventh episode, I found myself wondering, when are Martin Sheen’s Robert and Sam Waterston’s Sol going to fuck? I kept watching. I kept waiting. Watching. And waiting. And waiting…

Jane Fonda’s Grace got laid. In a sequence clearly inspired by the opening of Bridesmaids, she and Craig T. Nelson’s Guy have sex. It’s sitcom sex, but it’s sex. And that’s just the sex we see. It’s clear from the dialogue that they continue to have sex throughout the course of their relationship. Lily Tomlin’s Frankie is too heartbroken to have sex, mostly, so it makes sense that she doesn’t.

But Robert and Sol? After a lifetime in the closet ~ after 20 years of hiding their affair ~ after divorcing their wives and starting a life of their own, together ~ having finally relieved themselves of the stress of a life well-lied ~ don’t you think they’d revel in every single aspect of their newly found freedom? Can you imagine a straight couple, their affair finally out in the open, their marriages ended, depicted as not having sex? Neither can I.

Grace and FrankieMuch like I do with Modern Family, I found myself making excuses for the show’s lack of man on man action. They do touch and cuddle, I told myself. Sure, it’s somewhat forced and uncomfortable, but it’s there. And the show isn’t really about them anyway, it’s about the women. It’s about their broken hearts, their fears, their joys, their healing, and the surprising comfort they find in the arms of an adversary. And all of these things are true. The men’s characters really are secondary to the women. So I resigned myself, yet again, to another show with sexless gays.

But then, in the penultimate episode, entitled The Bachelor Party, their chastity became impossible to forgive. One of the party guests, an old coworker, says to Robert, “I don’t have a problem with you being a homosexual, but when did you become such a faggot,” while standing in the foyer of their home. Robert cocks his arm to punch the guy, but is stopped by Sol. The dialogue is as follows:

Sol: He’s not worth it.

Robert: (to Sol) You’re right. (to homophobic coworker) And you’re just lucky that that faggot stopped this faggot from putting you on your ass!

Yay! The faggots stood up for themselves in their own home! The writers must have felt great about that.

Then, after they throw the guy out…

Sol: (to Robert) You are so hot right now.

They embrace in what is supposed to be a passionate kiss but in reality is just a noticeably close-mouthed and slightly less comfortable than the famous “can’t look, can’t look away” Michael Jackson/Lisa Marie Presley kiss. Once again, I found myself forgiving them. Some onscreen couples just don’t have sexual chemistry. At least they’re kissing. At least they’re about to get laid!!!

But what do they do with all that energy and anger? With all that testosterone? With the erotic charge that comes with watching a lover own themselves and their space? With the bold proclamation of one’s attractiveness to the other and the gruff I can’t keep my hands off of you right now kiss? They walk…to the kitchen. The fucking kitchen! They’re in the foyer standing next to a god-damned staircase. All they would have had to have done was walk up the stairs and we all would have known. Holding hands and walking up stairs is sitcom shorthand for they’re going to fuck. But did they do that? No. After throwing around the word faggot and vanquishing the evil homophobe, the Grace & Frankie creative team still couldn’t bring themselves to let the faggots do what faggots do. Neutered again! Reduced to hand-holding, fast-quipping friends.

And then, just when I thought I couldn’t get any more pissed off, I watched the final episode.

They finally got Sol laid! But do they let him do it with his fiancé? No. Do they even have him cheat on Robert with another man? No. Who then, does he have sex with? His ex-wife. He finally, finally gets lucky, and it’s with a woman. Seriously?

An entire season–13 episodes–of a show about two men who, in their 70s, decide to be honest about who they are and who they love, and not one fuck. Not even a comedic one. Nothing.

In the scene with the homophobic coworker, the homophobe says:

“Then I heard about you and Sol and I thought, the less I know about that, the better. But I came tonight because I am your friend. And then what do you do? You throw your lifestyle in my face.”

How disappointing, and frankly disturbing, to know that the writers agree with the homophobe they wrote. That they too believe that at a certain point, an honest depiction of a gay couple is akin to throwing it in someone’s face, whatever that means. That they too believe that the less we know, the better.

PHOTO CREDITS: NETFLIX

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! Great piece of writing and an incisive cultural commentary about gay sex in the media. As you so articulately pointed out, there’s a long history of this (including Modern Family). I was really looking forward to Grace & Frankie, but now, I’ll approach it with a little skepticism and disappointment. Thanks again for the article.

    • Thanks for reading, Anthony! I think Grace & Frankie is definitely worth a look. Interesting in many ways. I do love me some Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and they have great chemistry and are just wonderful. But sadly, no man on man action. Maybe Season 2?

  2. C.J. Prince says:

    Really great piece. Apparently, we can just barely tolerate older hetero people screwing…but not older gay people. (In fact, I’ve seen this only once–in Lesbian Literature class in Barnard, 1993, a documentary about senior lesbian sex. Never since.) Maybe next season, Jane and Lily will hop into bed for something experimental….

  3. Hey Roger, Thanks as always for holding another high brow serial to a necessary accountability where same-gender loving expressions are both visible and absent. As much as I’ve enjoyed performances by Sam Waterson and Martin Sheen over the years, their casting was a misfire. The producers really should have positioned (and trusted) Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlinson as a coming-out lesbian couple, given that Tomlinson is a lesbian and she and Fonda, I think, would have generated a more honest and complex storyline. Instead, they opted for “safe” gay male coupling (such as already seen in Modern Family and others) that dress up two very hetero-actors as queer. I can appreciate scintillating and romantic intimacies that are represented in all gender expressions, but I would be mortified to see these two guys panting and sweating on their backs!

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