Film & Television

Netflix Review: “Grace and Frankie” — Forgetful, but Fierce

According to WebMD (the go-to site for those of us with “cyberchondria”), a recent study by Harvard Medical School found that women who had gone through menopause had worse memory than those who had not. (But, they still outperform men their age on memory tests.) With this in mind perhaps, the marvelous Netflix series Grace and Frankie, has included a comprehensive and entertaining prologue with its third season.

For this (and so much else), I say “thank you.”

Whether its memory loss (Frankie forgets where she’s left her purse on an amusing regular basis), arthritis, sexuality, or the way society — and even family — marginalizes older women, Grace and Frankie has become a popular and critical hit because of its ability to look at the challenges of aging. Significantly, the show laughs with but never at them. And, its wonderful stars prove time and again that, despite what Hollywood may think, talent has no expiration date.

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are gal pals in real-life, having forged a fast friendship back in 1980 when they starred together in the working women’s revenge fantasy 9-to-5. Both are celebrated actresses, enormously talented and politically active. They serve as Executive Producers for Grace and Frankie, and have expressed how passionate they are about its messages. Clearly, the series is a labor of love for both. In fact, if they aren’t having the time of their lives onscreen, they are even better actresses than we thought.

Their ex-husbands (now wed to each other, as of Season 2) are portrayed by veterans Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston. Although the two actors have impressive and extensive resumes, I find their scenes in Grace and Frankie a little irritating. Sheen’s Robert falls flat (and I’m not referring to his singing yet) and Waterston’s Sol is so flighty and effeminate that I can’t believe Frankie never suspected he was gay. The scenes between the two women are so rich and entertaining, but those between the two men seem downright whiney. I find myself audibly groaning whenever I’m subjected to yet another speech about how painful it was being in the closet for so long. Wah, wah, wah. Sorry, gentlemen, but being dumped after forty years and learning that your marriage was a sham must have been pretty painful too. Grace and Frankie dealt with it as any modern women would: disbelief, followed by vodka and pills, followed by a resolution to put on their big girl pants, get up and get going.

When we last saw Grace Hansen and Frankie Bergstein, they had made an announcement to their respective clans (legally related now thanks to the same-sex marriage of their respective ex-husbands) that they were going to launch a business building vibrators for older women. Season 3 jumps right in to that endeavor, as the two pitch their idea to a bank. Suffice it to say, their meeting doesn’t end well. Not only is the (young, male) loan officer uncomfortable with the idea of mature women pleasing themselves (the product is called, “Ménage a Moi”), but the idea that two 70-something women want a 10-year loan doesn’t quite. . .well. . .add up. Grace accuses him of sexism and ageism, and the two women make a dramatic exit, only to sheepishly return when, true to form, Frankie realizes that she left her car keys inside. It’s the perfect blend of righteous outrage, uncompromising girl power, and coping with day-to-day reality. The women are undaunted, and they go off to find funding elsewhere. “We’re forgetful,” Frankie asserts, “But, we’re fierce.”

Needless to say, launching a new business entails lots of activity, all of which becomes comic fodder when the business being launched is a vibrator for senior citizens. Focus groups, ad campaigns, strategic partnerships, even a lawsuit are mined for laughs. If the material is ever a little shall-we-say “awkward,” the show makes it so very awkward for the hapless secondary characters involved that we realize just how silly it was to feel awkward in the first place. Why shouldn’t an older woman have a vibrator designed with a comfortable gel sleeve for her arthritis and oversized glow-in-the-dark controls for her diminished eyesight?

Can’t think of a reason why not? Neither can I.

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  • Patricia. Moscatello March 28, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Great article on a Great show “Grace and Frankie. Great actresses.
    I love watching and sent your article out to all my Girlfriends.