Film & Television

‘Grace and Frankie’ Returns This Week

In 2015, Netflix took a risk with one of its original series. They bet that a show starring two older women, Jane Fonda (then 78) and Lily Tomlin (then 76), would appeal to a broad audience. Next year, when the series Grace and Frankie completes 94 episodes and its seventh and final season, it will be the longest-running show on Netflix. Longer than the edgy women’s-prison dramedy Orange is the New Black. Longer than political thriller House of Cards. Longer than GLOW, Stranger Things, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Longer, period.

In an industry in which more is more — except when it comes to age, when less is definitely considered more bankable — Grace and Frankie‘s continued success is something to celebrate.

If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, here’s a quick summary of what you’ve missed.

Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) are long-time frenemies. Their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston) are law partners, which means the couples have been unavoidably linked for decades. The two women couldn’t be more opposite — Grace is an elegant businesswoman, cool, calm, and perfectly coiffed at all times; Frankie is an aging hippie, an enthusiastic activist, artist, and organic farmer. But they are thrown together when their husbands throw them over . . . for each other. Turns out all those business trips were as much about the personal as the professional. With their children (two daughters for Grace and Robert; two sons for Frankie and Sol) grown and with gay marriage finally legal, the men decide to ditch their “beards” and enjoy the rest of their lives together.

Confused? Just imagine how Grace and Frankie feel, not to mention duped, double-crossed, back-stabbed, and myriad other synonyms for betrayed.

Insult is quickly added to injury when the wives realize they must now cohabitate in the beach house Robert and Sol bought years ago as a shared family vacation home (and, no doubt, secret love nest). Thus, Grace and Frankie become a contemporary Odd Couple, relying on many of the gags of that television classic with added helpings of feminism and post-menopause humor.

Previous seasons have shown us the two women learning to live together; Grace grounds flakey Frankie; Frankie teaches Grace how to chill. Together they launch successful products, targeting older but still sexually vital women: organic yam lubricant for dry vaginas, and the Vybrant, a vibrator that’s easier to hold for arthritic hands and features large illuminated controls for deteriorating eyesight. They’ve struggled with their dewy-eyed exes (whose constant touchy-feely behavior must be making up for all those years in the closet), and resisted their children’s well-meaning if misguided efforts to retire them both to nursing homes. They’ve flirted, dated, and bedded new men, humorously but also tenderly underscoring the insecurities 70-somethings might naturally feel in the throes of a new passion — a new passion who hasn’t seen them without the benefit of makeup or shapewear.

Throughout all of these post-retirement adventures, however, they reluctantly become the best of friends, supporting each other (bailing each other out when necessary), and proving to the world that they are not invisible.

Last year, the fifth season ended with two surprises. One was a fantasy sequence in which we were invited to imagine what would have happened had the doddering duo not ended up together. The other was a game-changing plot twist. Grace married her much younger beau, Nick (Peter Gallagher). 

 

 

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