Six episodes were provided for reviewing purposes prior to broadcast.
What’s the perfect place for a comedy centered around a quartet of septuagenarians who, upon discovering the husbands of each couple are in love and plan on getting married, must navigate the murky waters of a dysfunctional family and learn to cope with a completely new life late in their own? I don’t blame you if “Netflix,” wasn’t your first answer. The surprising thing is, though, that the company has backed a sincere and sweet little comedy in Grace and Frankie. While far from edgy or fast-paced, the series journeys to some relatively uncharted territories in regards to sexual, marital, and familial politics that are usually avoided by other, more toothless sitcoms.
Delving a bit more into the premise, the show follows Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and their husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston). In the pilot’s opening scene, Robert and Sol come out of the closet to their wives over brunch, and top it off with announcing plans to get married. “We can do that now,” an awkwardly chipper Robert posits. “I know,” Tomlin’s Frankie bluntly responds. “I hosted that fundraiser.” Cue a bout of confusion, denial, and general shenanigans as the feisty titular duo, and longtime subtle nemeses, are forced to live in a family-shared beach house to avoid their husbands and come to terms with what their “Golden Years” are really meant to be.
It’s a great, refreshing set-up, ripe with teases of real opportunity to see the ramifications of what happens when circumstances blow up a family so set in its ways. It’s got a stupidly good cast, as well, not even counting the four leads. The two couples have two kids each, and they orbit in and out of plots with regularity, bringing in their own inner-family drama along with them from time-to-time. They also highlight the differences between the two leads. Grace’s kids – Brianna (June Diane Raphael) and Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) – are smart, glib blondes like their mom, with varying degrees of maturity. Frankie’s kids, in name alone – Coyote (Ethan Embry) and Nwabudike (Baron Vaughn) – showcase her free-thinking, incense-heavy lifestyle.
It’s a classic odd couple match-up, but it never feels cliche because Fonda and Tomlin are just so damn fun to watch together, especially in a scene near the end of the pilot where the two first bond over heavy medication and a little bit of accidental peyote consumption (on Grace’s part). The show is so steeped in old-school mentalities – from its basic two-people-who-hate-each-other-become-friends plot to its endearingly cheesy opening title scene that, I kid you not, plays a new rendition of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” – that it’s easy to begin daydreaming about 9 to 5 or Big Business as the frenemies send digs back and forth with a sweetly cheesy make-up scene always right around the corner.
But, conversely, it also feels modern, which is exemplified especially well during a dinner party in episode three centered around the gender politics of Robert and Sol’s twenty-year affair. “Would you be cool with it if they’d been cheating with women for the last twenty years?” Brianna asks Nwabudike during the disastrous supper. “There wouldn’t be cake, there’d be blood,” she concludes, wine in hand. “Or bullets.” It’s a rare deep cut into the true nastiness going on in the show, begging a question I’m not sure I could even answer. If the show’s set-up is a bit Laverne & Shirley, then that dinner scene – and a few incendiary moments of dialogue – is like something from Weeds. You can see the series battling for which half of itself to show at any given moment, and it turns out that’s probably Grace and Frankie‘s biggest flaw: inconsistency.