Title: Grace & Frankie
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Comedy
Rating: ★★★★☆ || 3.5
In lieu of doing my final essays (10 page paper, here I come!) I’ve opted for marathoning the second season of Grace and Frankie, and imo? #Worthit. I’d watched the first season last year and had considered reviewing it for this blog, but kept putting it off because it felt hard to justify––a story that centres itself around two upper class white ladies? So #diverse. But you know what, fuck it. We’re doing this.
Grace and Frankie follows two women, Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein, who have their lives blown to pieces by the news that their husbands are divorcing them to marry each other. Unceremoniously kicked out of their lives and told that their marriages were a lie these past 20 years while watching all of their friends congratulate their husbands (Robert and Sol, respectively), Grace and Frankie, who have never gotten along, find themselves moving into their shared beach house, and learning how to deal with heartbreak––and each other.
So here’s the thing, right. There’s such a dearth of media out there about elderly people, elderly women especially. There have been so many studies about how female actors tend to age out of being considered for leading roles, for love interests, for roles that aren’t defined by age or, as Meryl Streep terms it, grotesqueness. And so it’s so refreshing to have a funny, sensitive show about two older women––women who are allowed to have fun, have sex, have drinks. Women who are allowed to laugh and cry and feel bitter and angry about their twenty-year betrayal by their husbands.
And oh, their ex-husbands! I was a little bit leery when I first approached this series because of that premise––it seemed to be ripe for homophobia TBQH––but the relationship portrayed by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston is so loving and also complex? Both men––Sol especially––feel guilty about the way they treated their wives, and feel some regret for how long they stayed in the closet and how much they hurt these women they do still love, yet they’re never made out to be monsters. They come off as people who have made a series of terrible decisions largely because of how difficult the world made it for them to be gay, and the tragedy of that––the tragedy for them and for Grace and Frankie, who were strung along for twenty years––is extremely clear. And they are allowed to finally, finally be happy together, and live openly as a couple. That, I think, is the magic of this show––Grace and Frankie are allowed to be bitter and angry and hurt, and Robert and Sol are allowed to be happy, allowed to be sometimes doubtful, but always sure of their love for each other.
Here’s the thing about diversity I feel like a lot of people miss––it’s not some checklist. It’s not a medical form where you list––hey, this thing has 3 queer people and 1 woman and 0 women of colour, ergo I give it a grade of X––that’s honestly such a tokenising and unnuanced way of going about it. I’m a quality over quantity girl, and to be quite frank (ha), I’ll take Grace and Frankie, which does one thing really well, over crud like Cinder, which does multiple things very poorly, every day. I’ve been browsing through some of the AV Club’s reviews for the show, and I think Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya put it best when she says that the writers know their characters really well. They are a set of extremely flawed characters but somehow, because their motivations are so clear and the places they’re coming from so relateable, they wind up being sympathetic rather than obnoxious, and the writers are good at building up season-long arcs. They don’t, as, for example, Elementary does, introduce plot elements and small arguments and little incidents and just forget them.
Overall, this is a solid 3.5. It’s a compelling narrative about underserved populations. In particular, its narratives about sexuality and age (Grace makes a compelling argument for vibrators for older women and women with arthritis), about age and death, fill in a space where silence dominates because young people and content creators are too grossed out by older bodies and older sexualities to do anything exciting or provocative with them. The fact that they’re old isn’t submerged in the narrative, it often informs the narrative, even narratives of queerness, which. I find some of the episodes to be a little too on the nose and I do wish it were a little more diverse in other ways but I also want to stress that it does what it is able to do well, and that’s not a point of censure to me, because I’d rather have nuanced narratives than meaningless tokenisation.