A Hallmark nightmare

I tend to dream… a lot. I don’t always remember my dreams but I remember them often enough. A few years ago I even blogged about a vivid one I had involving my dad and Richard Armitage. Mr Esther is often surprised at how much I seem to remember from my dreams. When a month ago the newest ‘Mach was’ theme was announced as ‘Do something with dreams’, I figured that by the time the deadline came around I’d probably have some silly dream or dreams to blog about. I was right. Herba sent a reminder for the ‘Mach was’ theme and I read that reminder right after a very eventful dream night. Thus the idea for this post was born.

In times of troubles, I tend to escape to easy fare now and again and find myself watching Hallmark movies. I have blogged about them before and while I don’t binge them like I did two years ago when I posted about them, I do see a fair share of them. Now that Christmas is edging closer, the Hallmark Channel is screening Christmas movies (oh my goodness, Hallmark completely adores Christmas!) and after watching one of those last weekend, I had that dream. In the dream I was stuck in one such Hallmark movie and it went something like this (I will be embellishing somewhat, not all of this actually happened in my dream, but I was inspired)…


It is the end of the afternoon, the sun is just setting, and Esther is driving alone in her car somewhere in rural middle of America. The landscape is covered with beautiful snow. She passes through a lovely town called Mistletoe and everywhere she looks there are homes covered in Christmas lights, with santas and sleighs and deer gracing the front lawns and many houses also sporting American flags or symbols…

“Trump country,” Esther finds herself thinking and, “wow, this is a Christmas-lights-rush, not unlike a sugar rush! A bit over the top but fascinating nonetheless.”

She drives through this overly-decorated world and turns into a quiet road just as she is leaving the town again. Suddenly the car skids, she tries to control it by wildly turning her steering wheel and braking but it doesn’t help. The car slides off the road and as she lands full stop in a ditch on the side of the road, the airbag opens, she feels her head snap forward and backward and she hears something crack underneath her. That doesn’t sound good. She is stranded and her neck hurts. She takes a few moments to control her shaking and her ragged breathing.

After the first shock, she figures she needs to get out of there and find help but luckily help isn’t far away. Just as she gets out of the car, she finds that a pick up truck has stopped behind her and a tall man is getting out. He’s not only tall, also dark and handsome. Instead of immediately thinking that he’s completely her type, she’s thinking, “Is this why there are so many trucks in America? So they can rescue stranded women in the snow? We don’t have many of those where I live in my Dutch city. Then again, we barely have snow.”

Things happen quickly. The handsome man, let’s call him Joe (as in Joseph and Mary – befitting a Christmas story), is concerned about Esther who insists she is fine. She doesn’t wait for introductions (rude big city girl that she is) and asks him take her to the nearest garage so she can arrange for her car to be towed and repaired.

“I’m afraid the garage is closed for the day,” Joe says, “but you can call them tomorrow. The car will be alright here.”

“Could you point me in the direction of the nearest inn, then?” Esther asks, walking to the back of the car to get her suitcase out of the boot.

“Our inn is closed for refurbishment, the nearest inn is 20 miles away,” Joe says. 

Esther, feeling a little overwhelmed and still shaky from the crash, stumbles a little, rubbing her neck and Joe is quickly at her side to steady her.

“Listen, you may have a concussion or whiplash. I’m Joe, the town doctor, why don’t you let me take a look at you in my practice which is close by.”

If there is one thing Esther hates it’s being poked and prodded. She doesn’t even like beauty spas and wellness centers, even going to the hairdressers is a chore she prefers to not do more often than once every 3 or 4 months. Letting a doctor poke and prod her really isn’t what she wants right now but in the end Joe is persuasive enough and she drives with him to his practice. He looks her over, pronounces her fine enough but also says that he would like her to not sleep alone that night, just in case. He offers her a guest room in his large house, where his recently divorced sister and niece are also staying for the time being. With nowhere else to go, Esther accepts.

Of course, Joe’s sister Mary and her daughter Eve (as in Christmas Eve) are lovely. They all share dinner and get to know each other. Mary and Eve talk about getting their Christmas nails done and won’t Esther like to join them. She smiles sweetly and declines as she doesn’t enjoy beauty treatments either.  “You’re an unusual woman,”  Mary says, trying to make sense of the fact that it is possible that there are women on this earth who would not enjoy having their nails done. Joe is starting to be intrigued by this charming stranger from a city abroad with her odd out-of-town ways.

The next morning is a Saturday morning and as there are no weekend calls, Joe accompanies Esther to the garage. The car is towed to the garage and Esther is told that it will be at least a week before the car is repaired, which means she will be stranded in the small town of Mistletoe over Christmas. Oh no! But Joe doesn’t seem to mind.

“Come, help us bake Christmas cookies!” Joe says cheerfully. Esther smiles half-heartedly. She hates cooking and baking. Why does everyone in a Hallmark movie always love to cook and bake? Maybe, like all the women in Hallmark movies, she will end up loving baking after all? She agrees to join in, and Joe, Mary and Eve spend a few hours baking with Esther while they listen to Christmas songs. 

Final verdict? The company is fun, and of course it’s sweet when Joe removes some flower from her face and if he’d lean in only a little further, they could be kissing. Other than that, baking in itself still sucks.

“Oh, we need to still set up a Christmas tree in my practice!” Joe then says and Esther and Joe go to the Christmas Tree Lot to pick a Christmas tree. It needs to be just the right tree and Joe educates Esther on how to pick the right one. Admittedly, it’s a nice tree but it really is huge. They set it up (it takes a while to get the tree standing straight) and decorate together. Joe takes ages to get all the Christmas lights placed ‘just right’ and the tree is very prickly as they decorate… and decorate… and decorate. A few lingering looks and smiles are exchanged, which is really the highlight of all of this. The tree is so huge it takes ages to decorate. “No wonder they only ever show couples in Hallmark movies hanging up the last few ornaments. This is only marginally more fun than baking,” Esther thinks. “At least the mess of tidying up the boxes is his and not mine to deal with.”

“Shall we all go to the Christmas Line Dance this evening?” Mary later asks when they get back to the house.

“Really?” Esther thinks, “Country music?” but sure, she’s game. It’s always good to try new things, right? Yep, line dancing doesn’t turn out to be her thing. She has fun and a lot of laughs, especially when she lands in bemused Joe’s arms a few times because of missteps, but this will never be her music.

“How would these people like ‘Assassin’ by Muse? Not so much, I bet,” Esther thinks, starting to play that song in her head…

The next morning Esther is up early and when she goes downstairs for breakfast she is cordially invited to come to church with Joe, Mary and Eve. 

“Oh no!” she thinks, “Just because I told them my father was a minister, they think I am religious too! Must set things straight.” So, she tells them, “Sorry, I am an atheist…” 

Their mouths fall open in amazement, Joe doesn’t seem to comprehend that statement. She can almost hear the wheels in his mind churning, saying, “Not Christian… not possible… does not compute…”

But, Esther doesn’t want to be rude to her kind hosts and comes with them. “I bet they think they’ll convert me. They won’t.” And she’s right, nothing in that church service, especially the sermon, has any remote attraction for her. “If anything, I’d rather be Jewish,” she thinks.

Joe and Esther go for a walk in the snow in the afternoon and talk about life. Joe gave up big city life and a high-flying career as a promising surgeon for a small country practice. 

“Doesn’t it get too quiet and isolated? What about going to an arthouse movie or to a rock concert or a museum? Shopping somewhere where there’s actual choice, the joy of people watching while sitting in a café in a busy city? And how do you deal with everyone interfering with everyone’s business? Doesn’t small town gossip get very annoying? There is joy to be had in a little more anonymity.” But all of that doesn’t seem to be an issue with Joe. He can’t imagine ever living anywhere else than in this little Christmassy town of Mistletoe.

“People here have family values,” he says.

“They have family values in the city where I live as well,” Esther counters.

Admittedly, the scenery in and around the town is beautiful.

On Monday Joe is back at work in his practice. Esther accompanies Eve to school and while she’s there she is introduced to the very kind headmaster (the token kind Hallmark African-American). They talk and she finds they are looking to replace an English teacher who just quit and Esther (oh miracle of miracles) happens to be an English teacher. She subs for a few days and of course she does well…

Here the dream starts working overtime… Christmas… Christmas… Christmas all around! Joe works to awaken Esther’s “Christmas spirit” which has remained dormant in protest: they listen to carolers… build snowmen… go ice skating… go Christmas shopping… help with more decorating at the church… more baking… always more baking… everyone is shiny and smiley… the magic of Christmas… Joe’s here… there’s a job here… small town Mistletoe is the only place to be… America is the best place in the world… MAGA… now I start to sweat (or is this menopause coming through in my dream?)… forget the outside world… stay here… wholesomeness forever… live for baking… and a few classes at school… and home making for Joe… and church (but I’m an atheist!)… forget your family and friends in the outside big bad world… oh no, everyone always has dead parents and family in these Hallmark movies… Is my family gone?… Is this the place to be?… With Christmas decorations… and Christmas stories…. and Hallmark Christmas movies…. and cheesy Christmas songs… stay here in this one small place forever… I am being sucked into a small town Christmas vortex…  MAGA… Joe… Christmas… decorations… baking… no more outside world… stuck here…    HELP!


I wake up with a start and sit up straight in bed, heart beating in my throat. Wow, that was beautiful and terrifying at the same time! I look to my right and see Mr Esther breathing deeply, sleeping beside me. Hallmark small town Christmas is pretty and all, but I think I prefer where I am with the husband I have… where I feel I can be myself… where I don’t have to bake or go to church… where Christmas decorating isn’t a constant thing… where I feel I can breathe and be different… I plant a careful, light kiss on Mr Esther’s head so that I won’t wake him and I lie down again, beside him. Hallmark is very pretty, Joe was very pretty and sweet, but that is not my world. This is my world and I am very content here.

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Say my name, over and over again

Two years ago, when Berlin Station first aired, I got a little kick out of the fact that one of the characters on it was named Esther (played by Mina Tander). And not just any character, but the woman would turn out to be a love-interest for Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage)!

Berlin Station S02E07 (13)

A year after Berlin Station I discovered Suits and got caught up in (binge-)watching that. In season 5 there was a guest character on the show who was also called Esther (played by Amy Acker), the sister of one of the main lawyers on the show (Louis Litt played by Rick Hoffman). She became a fling for the main guy Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht).

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Ever since then I have been meaning to make an ‘Esther’ fan video in which Richard Armitage and Gabriel Macht say my name, over and over again. Now that I have finally finished watching the second season of Berlin Station, I finally decided the time had come. So, here it is, the video I finished making this weekend, featuring my name (said by more people than just Richard and Gabriel)…

When I was a kid, I really didn’t like my name. In time I made peace with it and now, over the years, I guess I have finally gotten used to it; I have warmed to it in such a way that I am now happy enough with it. This video is all silliness, and feels somewhat narcissistic, but it was nice hearing my name on the lips of actors I like and love and it’s been fun documenting it in this video!  🙂

The Look of Love

Season 5 of A Place to Call Home just finished airing on Dutch TV. Not that I needed to really watch it, I’ve already seen it and blogged about it here, but I did dip in on occasion when I happened across it. I still love this show! And it reminded me that I had been meaning to make a season 5 fan video for Sarah and George, which I have now finally done. During this season, George (Brett Climo) and Sarah (Marta Dusseldorp) are finally together.

George Sarah APTCH season 5

Though not yet able to marry and officially living apart, it really is common knowledge that they are together and that Sarah’s son, David, is also George’s son. For them it’s all about the love they share this seaon, so “The Look of Love” felt very appropriate here (I love Nina Simone’s voice!)…

Season 6 has already started airing in Oz and I’m there for the ride. Sadly, season 6 is the final season but what a ride it’s been so far. 🙂

The Split

Just before the summer the BBC showed a 6 part series called The Split which is a legal drama series about divorce lawyers. I tend to not really like watching divorce dramas or dramas where a married woman is torn between her husband and a potential (ex-) lover. However, I had seen a trailer and it had two great attractions.

The first attraction was Nicola Walker (of Spooks fame, a very nice connection to Richard Armitage there!)…

I only watched Spooks during the three seasons that Richard was in it. It was fine but I never was a real fan of the show. However, apart from Richard, I always thought Nicola Walker as Ruth was the standout actor in it. I’ve never really seen her in anything else and in the trailer for The Split, she made me curious.

The second attraction was Barry Atsma, a Dutch actor. I tend to generally not be very fond of Dutch actors (or Dutch films) and I had not seen that much of Barry Atsma, although he is famous in The Netherlands. He seemed a generic and a little too sleekly handsome actor. Recently he made a Dutch movie called Bankier van het Verzet (The Resistance Banker) set in The Netherlands during World War II, which I alas missed in the cinema but was one of the few Dutch movies I really did want to see.

In the trailer and the publicity surrounding it, I suddenly saw something more than the smooth, charming exterior of Barry Atsma. Maybe it’s him ageing a little, like a fine wine, that makes him a little more appealing. Maybe he’s gaining more maturity as an actor and coming into his own. In any case, when I realized he had been cast in a prime time BBC series, I got curious to see how he’d do in an international setting and was also curious to see how his English would be.

I caught a glimpse (the first 10 minutes or so) of episode 3 of The Split when it aired on TV and from that felt I needed to watch the whole series. And so, recently, I finally did. Caution: if you read on, there may be minor spoilers ahead!

So, Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker) is a top class divorce lawyer in London.

She used to work for the family firm, where her mother Ruth Defoe (Deborah Findley) is boss and her younger sister Nina Defoe (Annabel Scholey, the dark-haired woman in the pictures below) also works as a lawyer. Their youngest sister Rose Defoe (Fiona Button) is not a lawyer but is very much a part of the story as well.

At the beginning of the series, Hannah starts work for a large top-class law firm, having left the Defore family firm as there were no more prospects for her there. She becomes the colleague of Christie Carmichael (Barry Atsma), who is an old flame she has been out of touch with. Christie is referred to as ‘Dutch not Danish’ a few times, and he also has a little bit of a Dutch accent, so why they chose to name the character Christie Carmichael is beyond me – there is nothing remotely Dutch about that name! Anyhow, Christie it is.

Christie and Hannah share an old friendship, which of course doesn’t sit so well with Hannah’s husband of twenty years, Nathan Stern (Stephen Mangan). Hannah and Nathan have 3 children between the ages of 16 and 10, Nathan is a barrister and on the surface their marriage seems alright, although from the beginning you do feel there is something lacking. Later it becomes more clear what that is…

Hannah immediately gets thrown into a big divorce case. During an initial meeting at Hannah’s new law firm, multimillionaire business owner Davey McKenzie (Stephen Tompkinson) tells his wife of 40 years, Goldie (Meera Syal), that he wants a divorce, which comes as a complete shock to her system.The Split MeeraPainful layers slowly get peeled away in this case and it serves as a thread throughout the whole series. The case also pits Hannah against the Defoe firm of her mother and sister. Hannah has a bit of a problematic relationship with her mother after leaving the firm, yet, Hannah, her sisters and their mother also share a deep bond and history of having to rely on each other after their father walked out when the girls were small children. Their father Oscar Defoe (Anthony Head), after having been an absent father for 30 years, suddenly shows up again in their lives, which causes a lot of tension…

There is tension between Hannah and her fellow-lawyer sister Nina: professional tension but also personal tension when Hannah sees Nathan flirt with Nina and when Christie too seems interested in Nina. And there also is tension between the youngest sister Rose and her fiancé James Cutler (Rudi Dharmalingam). Again, a baffling choice of a name for an Asian man who turns out to have Asian parents as well. Anyhow, James, seems almost too decent and boring and Rose seems to be getting cold feet as things slowly go south for this young couple. The way a young vicar gets caught between the couple during pre-ceremony talks is quite amusing, though…The Split Rose James… and (spoiler here) things do get better again for them.

Then there is the whole Hannah, Nathan and Christie triangle. Hannah still is attracted to Christie, yet also cares for her husband Nathan and is fiercely determined to keep Christie at a distance. Nathan loves his wife and when things come to a head at the end of the series, he fights for her, despite mistakes he also made. Christie, who seems to only be a smooth flirt at first, does turn out to have depth as he slowly shows how deeply he still cares for Hannah. It is hinted that she is “the one who got away” for him and you even get the sense that he is “the one who got away” for her as well, that she settled for Nathan over Christie way back in the day. Nathan is aware of some of the history between Hannah and Christie but not all of it and when the two men meet at work, you can cut the tension with a knife…The Split Christie NathanSo, Hannah is at the center of this whole story and has so much to deal with. Professional problems at work (among other things, her mother and sister poach a client and her loyalty to the new firm is occasionally questioned), problems with her dad re-entering her life, problems with her 16-year-old daughter who is discovering sex, problems with her sisters, and she is torn between two men. I normally don’t like stories about women being torn between two men, especially when she’s already married, but in this case I admit to being extremely torn myself. That is all down to the perfect portrayals of Hannah, Nathan and Christie. Usually in films or series you have a preference for one suitor over the other and what I think is brilliantly done here is that it is difficult to prefer one to the other; I have great sympathy for Hannah and also for both the men she loves. All three of them are very decent at heart yet all three of them are also flawed, just very human. If I were Hannah, I wouldn’t know who to choose either, I wouldn’t know who would make me happiest and I would love both as well… Nicola Walker, Stephen Mangan and Barry Atsma are truly brilliant in this.

Not only these three characters are so very well portrayed. Mother Ruth, sisters Nina and Rose, fiancé James, dad Oscar, and Goldie who has been forced into a divorce by her husband Davey, are all brilliant. They are all very human, good and flawed at the same time, and you get a real sense that even if you wouldn’t necessarily agree with all actions, you do understand where they’re coming from. The point where in the last episode Hannah is truly falling apart and she turns to her dad for a brief moment – yes, tears were streaming down my face.

I’m sure many things about divorce are not accurately portrayed in this, and it really is all a rich-person’s drama, and some of the names seem weird, and yes, I have read mixed reviews for this show. I get the criticism – there really is so much drama, almost too much to bear. And yet, I loved every moment of  this show and I think it had mostly to do with the characters and how they were portrayed. With lesser actors, the whole thing could have become whiney and unbearable and ridiculous to watch. Yet, with this cast, each and every one of them was brilliant and they lifted it all up for me. I really liked that you could sympathise with almost every character despite their flaws, it felt like all characters were treated fairly and I loved that it was strong-women driven.The Split - Defoe women

I finished binge-watching The Split a few days ago and it’s been on my mind ever since. There will be a season 2 next year and I for one am already looking forward to it!

Grace and Frankie

A little while ago I finally started watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix. I have been aware of the show for some time, and I have always liked Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, but somehow I was never actually moved to watch this. After the recent resurgence of my interest in actor James Stewart, I began reading about his friendship with Henry Fonda. That led me to reading about the complicated relationship between Henry Fonda and his kids and that in turn led me to some video interviews with Jane Fonda. From that my interest in Grace and Frankie grew and I finally braved the first episode. I was very pleasantly surprised, not only with the two women, but with all the main characters in the story!

Grace & Frankie posterThe show is about so many things, although most obviously it’s about two ladies in their 70s that have to completely reshape and redefine their lives.

At the start of the series Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) is married to lawyer Robert (Martin Sheen) and Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) is married to another lawyer Sol (Sam Waterston); the couples are in their 70s. Grace is an uptight former beauty product executive who is very fond of a drink and doesn’t much like Frankie who is a free-spirited hippie, giving painting lessons to ex-cons and who likes to smoke pot on occasion.

Grace Robert Frankie Sol

Robert and Sol work together in their shared law firm and the two couples have known each other for ages. The series begins with a dinner, where Robert and Sol announce to their wives that they are gay, that they have been in love with each other for 20 years and that they want to get married…

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While Robert and Sol are relieved that their secret is out at last, the two women are completely blindsided, their whole worlds are turned upside down. The two women retreat to the beach house the two couples had shared as a time-share and while at first Grace and Frankie get along with difficulty, they soon develop a friendship.

grace frankie01Each of the couples also have grown up children. Grace has two daughters, Mallory (Brooklyn Decker, on the left in the two pics below) and Brianna (June Diane Raphael, on the right).

Mallory is ‘the nice one’, married and a mom, while Brianna is the one who now heads up Grace’s old beauty products company, she is sarcastic and a commitment-phobe.

Frankie has two sons: Nwabudike, Bud for short (Baron Vaughn, the dark guy), who is also a lawyer, very responsible and on his way to take over the dads’ firm, and Coyote (Ethan Embry, the light guy) is a recovering drug addict, just out of rehab and living with his brother because he isn’t ready to live on his own yet.

What I loved about these two sons is that it is immediately clear that they are brothers and it takes a couple of episodes until it’s explained that they were both adopted by Frankie and Sol. It reminds me of my own family. I just visited my brother in London last weekend, and he too is dark where I am light (and his daughter is a lovely mix).

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Seeing Bud and Coyote going through regular sibling stuff reminds me of my brother (or my Palestinian brother or my Palestinian sister) and me. There is no emphasis on adoption, there is emphasis on sibling relationships with ups and downs and I just love that.

The daughters and sons of Grace and Frankie have known each other pretty much all their lives, so we also see them explore together what the new status quo means, how they too need to find their places. We also get glimpses into their lives and some of the big stuff they need to deal with.

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Then we have Sol and Robert. The marriage of Robert and Grace had sort of muddled on for ages, they weren’t particularly close. However, Sol and Frankie did have a close relationship in their marriage and their ‘uncoupling’ is difficult as they still really like each other.

Sol & Frankie 01

Yet, there is no doubt at all that Sol and Robert are absolutely in love and seeing that, despite the hurt they caused their wives, is heartwarming…

They deal with finally coming out as gay in their 70s (in a later season we see how nervous Catholic Robert is when telling his 90+ mother that he is gay), trying to tap into a gay community and find their own ‘way’ of being gay and struggling with couple issues like any couple does (living together, wedding preparations but also jealousy and infidelity of sorts are included).

The stars of the show are of course Grace and Frankie. They deal with the blow they have received and must learn to find new sources of support. They deal with feeling obsolete and ageing and health and death and family and finding love and sex and what all that means late in life. They must find their new normal, figure out a way to deal with their ex-husbands and figure out a way to make life fun and meaningful again. All of this sounds quite dramatic but the show has so much humour! It is touching and very funny at the same time and that combination is gold.

Grace and Frankie are two opposites who somehow attract and so much comedy is derived from how these opposites interact with each other, how very differently they deal with situations.  Grace is closed off and not too comfortable talking about emotions, Frankie is the opposite, Grace finds solace in drinking, Frankie finds solace in chanting and smoking pot. Frankie is very nurturing of her sons, whereas Grace is more standoffish with her daughters. She doesn’t particularly like kids and being a hands on grandmother is not her thing. And yet, reluctantly and bonding over the situation they have found themselves in, they become close. At some point Grace and Frankie even decide to found a company making vibrators that are tailored to older women, after Grace injures her wrist using a ‘regular’ vibrator at Frankie’s suggestion.

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That whole vibrator storyline is just a joy to watch. It also highlights how different their approaches to business are. Grace is a business woman through and through and Frankie is very much a go with the flow person, also very intent on being ethical in business. This leads to some very funny situations and they even go out and about with vagina balloons at one point!

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And their families look on in wonder how these two very different women seem to gel…Grace & Frankie group

They also deal with love. Frankie finds herself attracted to vegetable farmer Jacob (Ernie Hudson) who provides yams for the yam lubricant she makes (yeah, funny, just watch it…).

Grace gets involved with travel writer Guy (Craig T. Nelson) for a while…

… then reconnects with contractor Phil (Sam Elliott) whom she had once been attracted to but at that time she couldn’t act on it…

Grace & Phil

… and later finds that rich businessman Nick (Peter Gallagher), a man younger than she is and an adversary in business, is trying to pursue her…

Through all of this, at the heart of the show, there is the friendship between Frankie and Grace, dealing with problems that age brings and finding their feet in a later stage of life.

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To me this is a very universal show, relevant to all ages. Sure, it centers around old people, but really it’s a show about humanity, accepting the differences in people, dealing with what life throws at you and trying to make the most of life regardless, and survival. All of this is done with a nice large shot of humour thrown in. The acting is great, the characters are great, the stories are fun and serious subjects are not shunned. I have just completely fallen for Grace and Frankie!

There are four seasons of Grace and Frankie available on Netflix (13 half hour episodes a season). The fifth season is being filmed as we speak, it should be out at the beginning of next year. I, for one, can hardly wait to see how this continues! Here’s a trailer for the start of the series.

The show really is everything this trailer promises and more… totally worth a watch in my humble opinion. 🙂