Film & Television

The Bingeable Fifth Season of ‘Grace and Frankie’

This past weekend, much of the Midwest and Northeast experienced heavy snow, followed by a deep freeze. As crews worked to clear highways, local roads remained sloppy and slippery. Our local market (in walking distance, luckily) ran out of milk, soup, cookie dough, and other comfort foods.

Could there be a better excuse for bingeing in front of the TV?

And is there any show more bingeable than Netflix’s Grace and Frankie? Happily, the fifth season premiered Friday, so we had a whole three-day weekend to get through 13 new half-hour episodes.

For those of you who haven’t enjoyed the adventures of Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein yet, here’s a quick summary. Grace (Jane Fonda) is an elegant career woman, the retired founder and figurehead of an upscale line of skincare. Frankie (Lily Tomlin) is a free spirit, a painter who smokes dope and goes on spirit quests. The two women have nothing in common and wouldn’t even be friends except that their husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, respectively) are law partners. It turns out that the two are intimate partners as well; they’ve hidden a secret love affair from their wives for 20 years. Each of the spurned wives retreats to the beach house the two families bought together. When neither is willing to give up her share of the house, the two reluctantly agree to cohabitate, and we get to enjoy a modern and distinctly feminist take on The Odd Couple.

Over the past four seasons, Grace and Frankie have launched a successful business, Vybrant, a vibrator designed for older women (the control buttons are larger for arthritic hands and illuminated for failing eyes). They’ve protested, they’ve had romances, they’ve reconciled (more or less) with their spouses, they’ve offered advice, often unsolicited, to their children (June Diane Raphael, Brooklyn Decker, Baron Vaughn, and Ethan Embry), and they’ve imbibed many, many martinis.

What makes the show so good, aside from zany plot twists and some fine writing, is the indomitable spirit of its two leading ladies. Fonda is 81 and Tomlin is 79 (their characters are written to be close to the actresses’ real ages), and while there is much humor built around their aging, at no point are they stock old-lady figures. Their main issues are universal human ones, like finding fulfillment, starting a new love, or keeping family together, as well as dealing with living in a youth-obsessed world and their eventual mortality. Fonda and Tomlin have been fast friends since they worked together on 9 to 5 in 1980. Their chemistry is terrific.

When we last saw Fonda and Tomlin as Grace and Frankie, they’d become suddenly homeless. In the season four finale, our eponymous heroines, having finally realized that their children gaslighted them into moving into Walden Villas, an assisted living facility, stole a golf cart and high-tailed it back to their beloved beach house. Running (or in Grace’s case, thanks to knee replacement, limping) across the sand, they spied their side-by-side Adirondack chairs before they saw the realtor’s “SOLD” sign.

Co-creator Marta Kauffman recalls the audience’s response to that surprise ending. “People were mad,” she explains, “People were mad at the kids because they sold the house.”

It was difficult to imagine the show’s continuing without the beach house, which was, after all, what brought the ladies together in the first place. Kauffman and her team didn’t wait long to resolve that particular plot twist. (From here on, I’ll be discussing the new season, so consider this a “spoilers warning” and continue reading or not, as you see fit.) The Hanson and Bergstein offspring sold the house to a pop star (Nicole Richie) whose personal assistant (Ru Paul) threatens to evict the two “squatters.” Once his client arrives, it takes all of three minutes for Grace and Frankie to convince her that what she really wants is a house in Santa Fe. Problem solved.

It might have been more interesting to watch Grace and Frankie squat a little longer (there was a funny, but too brief, sequence with miniature pigs) and fight for their house. After all, their children tricked them into moving and assumed power of attorney while both women were of sound mind. Well, relatively sound mind.

But, then we wouldn’t have had so many entertaining episodes in the style that Grace and Frankie fans have come to know and love.

For example, Frankie takes Grace to a “spa” that turns out to be an ashram, complete with raw vegetables, chanting, burlap robes, and a recluse (Paul Michael Glazer) living in a yurt. Grace decides that her old company, currently run by daughter Brianna (Raphael), needs her guidance and she steps back in, energized by some Adderall she stole from an assisted living cohort (Marsha Mason). Stoned on cannabis gummies, Frankie tweets about “National Vibrator Day” and offers free vibrators and donuts to people who retweet, causing a 50,000-item inventory issue. And, both women fight to have a walk signal lengthened at the intersection in front of an all-you-can-eat crab legs buffet.

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