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Summer 2015 Review: Grace and Frankie

25 May

Grace and Frankie

Grace & Frankie is a weird somewhat tonally dissonant half hour show from Netflix starring two legendary actresses in their 70s (and co-starring two legendary actors of the same age) from one of the creators of Friends.  The premise isn’t exactly unique (TV Land mined a very similar premise for Happily Divorced a couple of years back) but it is potentially fruitful and bold in its starring choices of women of retirement age. Unfortunately, it’s not quite compelling enough to be worth following.

Grace (Jane Fonda) is a somewhat uptight and prideful WASP type, who wants to grow old with dignity. She never had a passionate dynamite love affair with her husband, Robert (Martin Sheen), but she liked and respected him, and when she grew up that was more than enough; she liked their life and their children and wanted it to stay that way. Frankie (Lily Tomlin) is a hippie-ish wild child who did have that smoldering relationship with her husband Saul (Sam Waterston), the love of her life. Grace and Frankie have opposite personalities and naturally do not care for one another. Their husbands however are business partners and great friends. Grace and Frankie’s lives are turned upside down when it turns out that their husbands are also long-time lovers and are only now finally coming out to their wives because they want to get married. Grace is pissed, Frankie is heartbroken, and both are crushed. They both, after meeting and receiving sympathy from their respective children, exile themselves to the beach house the two couples share, which had been pitched to them as a financially prudent proposition, but of course was really a convenient love nest for the two husbands.

The series is billed as a comedy, but it’s not very funny. I don’t simply mean it’s supposed to be funny and fails, like Two and a Half Men, although it sometimes tries to be funny and fails. But it’s really much more poignant and melancholy than most traditional half hours; certainly from the get go. That makes a lot of sense when considering how depressing the situation is outside of the high premise. These two women have had their entire lives uprooted when they’re in their 70s and don’t have a lot of time to start over. Their husbands carried on their affair for years, and they desperately want their coming out to be a triumphant celebration of courageous love, but their decision to string along their wives for decades leaves Grace and Frankie holding the bag, alone, in their twilight years.

Grace and Frankie is, at the same time, loaded with very silly, obvious broad comedy which plays on the contrasting Odd Couple-relationship between Grace and Frankie, and which provides a strange contrast to the serious emotion at stake. The climactic scene of the pilot involves Frankie doing peyote to find some peace, while Grace accidentally has some as well, and they have a classic broad comedy drug scene, being outrageously silly while also somehow bonding.

Of the two modes of Grace and Frankie, the poignant emotional side works better; the actresses really are legendary for a reason, and it’s an unusual situation portrayed, especially in that older women are rarely portrayed as protagonists on television. As a comedy, it’s less successful. It’s really not funny and the jokes just don’t come through. I get the idea; dignified elderly ladies doing very stupid things maybe are supposed to be funny, but it isn’t.

Ultimately, Grace and Frankie is an interesting idea, but really not enough to make you come back to watch week after week (or binge, half hour after half hour, as Netflix goes).

Will I watch it again? No. It’s an interesting exercise, not without any merit, and it’s great to see people in their 70s, and women in particular, getting a chance to star. Still, there’s not enough there to be worth watching.