Like The Leads, Gets Better With Age
Grace and Frankie has been one of the rarities of comedies in the Golden Age: a comedy series that is old fashioned in style, but managed to become more endearing with each successive season. Part of it is due to the fact that I have always admired any series that is willing to give work to actors and actress in their seventies, and now that all four leads are either at or nearly eighty, I find myself more inclined to cheer it on.
When the last season ended, Grace and Frankie (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin — who else?) had broken out of their ‘assisted living home’ to return to their beach house and found that it had been sold. Most of the amusement for the first two episodes centered on their back and forth with an acidic realtor (RuPaul cast way against type), as they tried to find a way to get their house back. This involved their decision to ‘squat’ there, which led to Grace finding herself having her first slumber party — ever. The series also demonstrated its own level of poignancy — we finally learnt about Grace’s mother, the level of depression in her own life, which may have led to so many problems with her own children. There’s also a certain level of frustration between the children now, after last season’s plotting and planning ended up with Grace and Frankie in the retirement village in the first place. Briana (June Diane Raphael) is still particularly bitter, but also because the company that she inherited from her mother is now on the verge of bankruptcy. She ends up getting her mother’s help again, and in grand Grace tradition, she ends up overwhelming her on the first day back.
Considering all the stress that has been going on with our leading ladies, its actually encouraging that the leading men are doing better. Robert and Sol spent much of season 4 going through a level of awkwardness with their own relationship, which led them to consider the idea of an open marriage — which lasted until a naked ‘friend’ showed up in their kitchen. The two now seem to know what they are suited for, and what they’re not. But they don’t seem to be doing much of a better job with other people. In the season opener, they found Peter, the head of the local theater association on their couch. Peter had been married for fifteen years, and apparently has been cheating with a friend — a situation neither helped when they inadvertently learned they didn’t have an open marriage. Robert (Martin Sheen) agreed to keep him around the house, mainly because he wanted the new show of the season to be Man of La Mancha, because ‘I’m finally old enough to play Don Quixote.’ Sol (Sam Waterston) is still struggling to find his place in the world, even if it doesn’t involve the law.
It’s true that Grace & Frankie has never been particularly groundbreaking. And these days, it’s not even the only series on Netflix where you can see a lot of senior actors doing great comedy mostly about the problems of getting old. (I raved about The Kominsky Method just a few months ago.) But in a world, and particularly on a service that revives older shows to diminishing returns (witness Fuller House and the constantly flagging Arrested Development), there is something to be said for a series that manages to tell stories portrayed by experts at their craft that makes you laugh. A lot. And considering how much of the series is about aging and the inevitability of death, its amazing how cheerful it is, considering how bleak some of the same contemporary comedies based on younger actors are. Fonda and Tomlin have managed The Odd Couple act to a level that even Randall and Klugman never quite reached. And there’s something comforting in seeing these two actors find a way to prevail. They can barely stand each other, but it’s telling that they can’t think of being apart. I’m not sure I could imagine Netflix without them either.
My score: 4 stars.