Film & Television

Tomlin and Fonda Reinvent the ‘Boston Marriage’ in ‘Grace and Frankie,’ Season 2

A “Boston Marriage” is a euphemism from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It describes two women living together, without financial support from a man. The term itself comes from Henry James’s 1886 novel The Bostonians (1886), which featured a long-term relationship between an established feminist and her protégée. These arrangements became a socially acceptable situation for the era’s growing number of educated, professional women. Some may have chosen to live in a Boston Marriage because they were lovers, others because they didn’t want to give up their independence.

It’s unlikely that many (if any) of them went into it for the same reason Grace and Frankie did.

Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein, long-time “frenemies” and polar opposites, set-up housekeeping when their respective husbands of forty years announced that (a) they were leaving them, (b) they were gay and (c) they were going to marry each other, because . . . “Now we can.”

In case this doesn’t sound complicated enough, add extended family members, concerned but oh-so-curious friends and neighbors, new loves, old flames, a penchant for martinis (on the part of Grace) and for smoking dope (that would be Frankie), and there was certainly enough drama for thirteen half-hour episodes. The first season of Grace and Frankie (still available to watch or, better yet, binge on Netflix, DVD or Amazon) focused mainly on the husbands’ confession and its aftermath. The two men were law partners as well as lovers, and together they had purchased a beach house as an investment property. It was there that the two wives retreated, forming a delightful, if friction-filled, contemporary version of The Odd Couple. Grace, with her tailored shirts and perfect makeup was the Felix to free-spirit artist Frankie’s Oscar.

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

Grace and Frankie struck a chord with critics and viewers alike, mainly because of the queen-sized talent of its two leading ladies: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. (Both women are also executive producers of the show, along with Marta Kauffman, a Friends co-creator.) But, I was a little concerned about where the new season might take us. Grace and Frankie’s initial shock — simultaneously funny and utterly heartbreaking — had to wear off eventually. What then? And, I worried that the show’s most topical issue (gay marriage) would become “old news,” repetitive and preachy.

Having now binged on the entire second season (“Thank you, WVFC for giving me a legitimate reason to binge!”), I have to say that I liked it very much; in fact, I liked it even better than the first.

This new season picks up right where the first left off. (If you haven’t watched the first season yet, you may want to skip the rest of this story until you do.) Robert and Sol (a deadly dull Martin Sheen and a painfully dorky Sam Waterston) are about to get married. But, unbeknownst to Robert, Sol and Frankie ended a day of packing up their old home in their old bed. Sol is concerned that his break-up sex may break up his relationship with Robert, last seen penning heartfelt vows. (What tangled webs these two families weave.) This becomes a moot point, however, when Robert suffers a heart attack.

Season two quickly finds both families in the hospital, waiting to learn how much damage there’s been and whether Robert will need surgery. Along with Grace and Frankie and Robert and Sol, there are the Hansons’ daughters Brianna (June Diane Raphael) and Mallory (Brooklyn Decker); and the Bergsteins’ adopted sons Nwabudike (Baron Vaughn) and Coyote (Ethan Embry). This sets the tone for the new season; it’s less about sparring divorcées and more about new definitions of family.

Most of all, it’s about women reinventing themselves later in life.

RELATED: Don’t Mess with ‘Grandma’: Lily Tomlin Delivers in Her Latest Role

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  • Toni Myers May 24, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Many thanks for this delightful review of my favorite show on TV. Only problem I had was finishing season two, better than the first. The two women and their friends spoke to me directly. As did you.

    Reply
  • Andrea May 10, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks Alex for this review. Season 1 was so sweet funny and relevant! Jane and Lily are wonderful together! I look forward to binge watching season2!

    Reply