TV Views: “Grace and Frankie”

By Hans Pedersen, July 2015 Issue.

"Grace and Frankie" is like a waking dream for fans of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

Nexflix had delivered a whole season of the legendary actors, who previously starred together in the 1980 classic “9 to 5,” for your streaming pleasure May 8. And, not three weeks later, it was announced that the show had been picked up for a second.

The premise of “Grace and Frankie” is simple, and its revelation isn’t much of a spoiler since the opening credits essentially share the same story (told with the tiny dolls placed atop wedding cakes). Grace and Frankie’s husbands, Robert and Sol, are business partners, and they drop a bombshell at dinner in the opening scene: The two men are also romantic partners who are in love with one another. More so, they want divorces so they can tie the knot and live together.

Grace and Robert are the couple who have an easier time severing ties, since they’re already fed up with one another, compared to Frankie and Sol who have a closer, more nurturing relationship. Ultimately, Frankie is the one who takes the news hardest in the long term, as all the episodes build up to the big wedding day.

While it’s a heavy betrayal, with consequences that play out for the characters over a skillfully acted 13-episode run, the soon-to-be ex-wives have come to terms with their husbands’ love for one another. Nearly 40 years is a long time for couples to be together.

Since the families co-own a beach home in La Jolla, Grace appropriates the beachfront mega-casa. But Frankie also calls dibs, sparking a feisty rivalry that gradually morphs into a bond. The question of who will live in the house is easily settled in a manner that’s too fun to spoil.

At first, Frankie seems to be the one bolstering their spirits with New Age techniques, as they try to get over the shock and move on with their lives. But later in the season, Frankie is the one who needs to lean on her new friend.

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The two women don’t cut all ties with their husbands, especially since both couples have adult children together. One unexpected perk of the show is watching the reactions of their sons and daughters, one of whom now runs the cosmetic company that Grace built. And, when Grace decides she wants to get back into the business, the results are actually a bit racy.

The relationship between Sol and Robert, as they learn how to live together without much guidance, serves as a subplot in many of the episodes. The unexpected treat is watching Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen play the philandering husbands – and then watching those two men work to build a new life together.

Of course, Tomlin and Fonda hit all the high points, navigating dramatic moments and sustaining viewer engagement like the pros they are. They’ve also got the comedy timing of two women who are in the upper echelons of the business. What else would you expect from Fonda, a seven-time Oscar nominee with two Academy Awards to her name, and Tomlin, a five-time Emmy Award-winner who also snagged an Oscar nomination for Robert Altman’s sweeping country music satire Nashville?

Here these legends get the space to do their thing as the series leads. There are no network execs mussing up the creative waters here, and no over-zealous scene trimming, and we all have Netflix to thank.

From Grace’s comeback in cosmetics, to Frankie pot smoking, the storylines are full of surprises, including a unique ceremony involving peyote (which might look like iced tea to the uninitiated).

It’s hard to find fault with a show that’s smart, entertaining on so many levels and fairly unpredictable. There’s almost never a false note, except once in a blue moon Grace’s exasperation with Frankie feels like a bit of a device.

All 13 episodes make for delightful summer binge-watching experience, and the final cliffhanger is a perfect invitation for a second season.

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