Film & Television

Netflix Review: “Grace and Frankie”—Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Make a Delightful Odd Couple

Grace-and-Frankie-Netflix-Original-Cast“Grace and Frankie,” A Netflix Original, with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston

This past Saturday night, my husband and I went out for a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary. The table next to ours had three older couples who were a little louder than we might have hoped. As they enjoyed more and more wine in addition to their lobster, it became more and more difficult to ignore them. So we defaulted to eavesdropping. One of the husbands talked about his time in the service and how a member of his platoon had a wife in the Philippines in addition to his wife in the States. Another husband explained that he was going to tear down his family’s home in nearby Wellesley, build a newer and nicer one, then sell it and make an extra half-million dollars on top of the $3 million that the lot was worth. My husband and I were both rolling our eyes by that point. Then, suddenly, I stopped to listen more intently. One of the wives was talking about the new Netflix series Grace and Frankie.

“So,” she told the table, “Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin go to dinner with their husbands, who are law partners, and they think it’s about retiring, but instead, the husbands tell them that they’re leaving them because they’re gay and now they’re going to marry each other.”

The table erupted in laughter.

Having just binged on the entire series this weekend, it occurred to me that this woman’s simplistic setup and her companions’ immediate reaction demonstrated the challenge that the show’s creative team has taken on. Given the premise, we assume that it’s comedy. “Oh, those wacky gays!” meets “I miss Golden Girls!”

In reality, having a spouse leave after 40 years—and learning that said spouse was feigning his heterosexuality all along—would be fairly devastating. And, to the show’s credit, the pain and confusion of the situation gets at least as much screen time as the inherent humor of two very different wives suddenly thrust together to face the unthinkable.

Grace and Frankie owes much to the iconic seventies show The Odd Couple, with elegant, cultured Grace taking the Felix Unger role to Frankie’s more free-spirited Oscar Madison. Fonda and Tomlin (who both look fabulous at, respectively, 77 and 75) are perfectly matched. The two actresses have remained friends since their 1980 hit 9 to 5, but haven’t had an opportunity to work together again until now. As you watch each 30-minute episode, you can appreciate not only their acting, but how much fun they’re having.

At first, Frankie seems more evolved than Grace. She chants, meditates, drinks peyote, and opens herself up to this “new chapter” of her life. Meanwhile, Grace is horrified by what other people must be thinking. “It would have been better if you’d died,” she tells her husband. And she means it.

Soon, however, the two women become more dimensional; both are shattered by their situation. Grace is deeper than we thought. And Frankie is more hurt than her New Age attitude would have us believe. Because this is, in many ways, a sitcom, the two women are forced to cohabitate in a beautiful beach house that their husbands bought together years before. By the time the season’s 13 episodes end, they come to realize that they care for and need each other. A genuine love grows between them that is both believable and powerful. Women needing other women as they age and face life’s catastrophes is an important and deeply satisfying theme throughout.

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  • Judith A. Ross May 12, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    My husband and I are both in the midst of watching this one. I agree with your assessment and about the lack of authenticity in the two main male roles. And I feel a bit better about all the eye-rolling I’ve been doing when the two of them have scenes together. Their relationship just doesn’t ring true! That said, there is a lot of depth in depicting the loss on both sides of the couples and Fonda and Tomlin’s roles share a lot of truth about what it is like to be an older woman — especially, I suspect, one who finds herself without a man.

  • Toni Myers May 12, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Thanks. I can’t wait!

  • Kelly May 12, 2015 at 9:08 am

    I’m almost done watching the first season and it’s wonderful! I’ve always loved Jane Fonda in all her movies but I think she’s the most excellent when doing comedy. She and Lily Tomlin are excellent together. And it is so refreshing to see the life events of people over the age of 40 on TV! Although it is a little disconcerting to see President Bartlett call Jack McCoy “sweetheart”, I think the guys are also doing a fantastic job.

  • Holly May 12, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Started the binging this weekend and I am in love with these women. They play perfectly together and I laughed and sighed as they make their way through a stunning life-changing event. Also can’t stop loving that beach house……