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!
The 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.
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…
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.
Each 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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
And their families look on in wonder how these two very different women seem to gel…
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…
… 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.
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. 🙂