Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie is Netflix’s newest original series, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Frankie and Gracie’s husbands ( Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen ) leave the two women for each other, revealing they’ve had an off/on twenty year love affair.  Frankie and Gracie have never been two peas in a pod, but they co-own a beachfront house, an idea their husbands has suggested years ago ‘ for profit sharing. ‘ They move into the house together, and life happens. The real angle of this series? They are all in their early 70’s.

The whole thing could have gone kaput in a pot of lukewarm jokes about gay men and older women, but the writing is sharp and laugh out loud funny, and the characters are not rushed through plotlines where zany togetherness replaces real change. The women are crushed when their husbands leave, and there are moments of true poignancy. In one episode, the women attend the funeral of an old friend, and Jane Fonda’s character Grace is led through a series of conversations and confrontations. She ends up standing alone in the crowd, bewildered and scared look on her face as she realizes how much has been stripped from her in the wake of her husband’s betrayal.

Jane Fonda plays Grace with a touching vulnerability shimmering below the surface of her tightly constricted rules- she hasn’t had ice cream in nine years. Grace is the straight man to Lily Tomlin’s adorable, loveable Frankie who adopted two boys and named them Coyote and Nwabudike ‘ Bud ‘  and who in her distress immediately after being told of the news of her husband’s abandonment, smokes peyote and takes muscle relaxants on the beach, in order to take a spiritual journey. ‘ Prepare yourself, ‘ she tells Grace, who joins her on the beach and guzzles the peyote drink, believing it to be tea, ‘ for some light vomiting followed by life altering revelations. ‘ When Grace begins complaining, Frankie coos: ‘ Your anger is frightening the sand. ‘

Frankie’s husband Sol ( Sam Watertson ) and Grace’s husband Robert ( Martin Sheen ) are interesting and engaging in their own right. I’m a huge fan of both actors, who do a lovely job of illuminating why these two men were willing to give up so much to be together. As the show moves forward more is revealed about their long affair and it becomes obvious that real romantic love was not in the original marriages for any of these four. Frankie and Sol were best friends, though, and they suffer the worst pain at the overnight severing of the life they knew, all of it’s routines, rituals and comforts ripped away. One episode in particular, ‘ The Spelling Bee’ revolves around Frankie and Sol’s attempts to stay connected while slowly and painfully realizing they cannot.

All of the secondary characters add something bright to the ensemble- Robert and Grace’s daughter Brianna ( played by June Raphael ) is a stand out, sharp as hell, funny and tough, her blue eyes zing as she delivers one liners.  Brooklyn Decker plays Briana’s sister convincingly a little drowned in her life, spacey and yet focused. ‘OK no problem, ‘ she tells her mom as she rushes through a list of must-do’s,  ‘ I’m just going to feed the dog and do my kegels in the car.’

In the end it is Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda who are the successful heart of this show. I can’t think of another show about women in their 70’s that treated them as true invidual women in the thick of life without the constant focus on age- Golden Girls was hilarious and ground breaking, but the entire premise was a one liner ‘ look at the old lady being funny ‘ vibe, whereas Grace and Frankie ask us to see these women as they are- complicated, still seeking, learning, sometimes on the cutting edge of life naturally and easily ( as when Frankie teaches Grace about making homeade, organic lube from ‘the best organic tubers!’ ) sometimes hilariously fumbling their way through the modern world ( Frankie again, buying a computer and setting up a Twitter account, which you can visit now at twitter.com/suckitaynrand thanks to the crafty Social Media crew at Netflix ) Frankie’s observations on Twitter are spot on: ‘ Why watch alone when I can share the entire experience with millions of strangers!? ‘

Unlike CBS’s failed remake of ‘ Odd Couple ‘ Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s friendship in Grace and Frankie are an odd couple worth watching.

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