Fans of the Netflix series GRACE AND FRANKIE should read to the end of this article and then check out Season 4 of this accomplished comedy drama. It has just “dropped” as we say, so go, binge.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the title roles. The original concept, back in 2015 when Season 1 debuted, was to create a vehicle for these two Baby Boomer movie stars; they’ve known each other since they worked on the 1980 hit feature 9 TO 5. The intention at the time was to capture that Boomer audience, however in four seasons the scope and emphasis of the show has shifted.
The original concept was that Grace Hanson (Fonda) and Frankie Bernstein (Tomlin) were married to Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston) respectively. The drama of the first episode is precipitated by the women discovering the men to whom they have been married for thirty-plus years, have been pursuing an affair. The husbands admit to the affair, come out as gay, end their marriages to Grace and Frankie and begin planning their own wedding.
Although Grace and Frankie have known each other for all those years, they were never close. Grace runs a successful cosmetic business that she is in the process of handing over to her oldest daughter. Grace is an intense A-Type personality who enjoys a drink a little too much. Frankie is a free-spirit. An artist who teaches sometimes. Weed is her drug of choice. They end up sharing a house and although they are repelled by their opposing life philosophies, they also share one very unique experience.
In the beginning, the series was about Grace and Frankie bonding. Technically, the series then was a smart take on the ODD COUPLE formula with two great actresses, in their 70s, having fun playing well-written characters in a slickly produced “dramedy”.
The show’s creators are Marta Kauffmann (best known as the co-creator of FRIENDS) and Howard J. Morris who has been a writer/producer on numerous sitcoms such as ACCORDING TO JIM and HOME IMPROVEMENT. They have created a show with impressive storytelling possibilities. In that first season, the line they took in interviews was that the show wasn’t about “getting old”.
This time, ageing, staying healthy in mind and body and working out exactly what to do with the remainder of one’s “third age” is definitely on Grace and Frankie’s radar; their struggles are poignantly and hilariously explored. Sometimes the script asks Fonda and Tomlin to turn on a dime emotionally and they are absolutely up to the challenge. This show can be moving one second and laugh-out-loud funny the next.
Which may not be your cup of tea if you’re no where near the age of our lead characters. However, the writing was strong from the start and is even better now. Naturally our Boomers get the most attention (Fonda, Tomlin, Sheen, Waterston); Robert and Sol always have a story arc which reveals the status of their relationship, but as the extended families expand further, the adult children have begun new relationships or started families and are living their own problematic, funny lives.
After four seasons and fifty two episodes, the regular cast is working together beautifully. Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn are very good as the Bergstein brothers; Brooklyn Decker (Mallory Hanson) is the most improved and as always, June Diane Raphael (Brianna Hanson) wins the MVP in the grown up kids quartet. She is always flat-out funny. The very watchable guest cast this time around includes Lisa Kudrow, Ernie, Hudson, Talia Shire, Peter Gallagher, Marsha Mason and Swoosie Kurtz.
The show is now about a deep and sustaining friendship in the last section of Grace and Frankie’s lives. It also has biting and observant things things to say about middle-class obsessions and the emotions that, paradoxically, keep families fighting and holds them together. GRACE AND FRANKIE, Season 4, is available now on Netflix. (8/10)