And that’s where the initial trepidation over the show begins settling into place. Its first few episodes showcase a focus on the immediate blow-back from Sol and Robert’s coming out but, six episodes in, some of the arcs begin to feel protracted. The addition of a few of the kids’ subplots keep things churning along, but at episode six, Grace and Frankie already feels like a show that’s spinning its wheels until the finale to provide a semblance of closure on the pilot’s revelations. Its setup is a great nugget of an idea, and the 13-episode format gives co-creators Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris plenty of time to delve into its aftershocks, but the series begins to trade off revelation for repetitiveness at nearly every turn.
There may be an even bigger concern at play here for the show: will the target audience even watch it? Netflix, never one to reveal the exact numeric data of its many successes, probably doesn’t really care one way or the other for such a small blip on its otherwise behemoth of a 2015. If we’re keeping count: the season three leak of House of Cards nearly broke Twitter, fifty more Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gifs were created as I wrote this sentence, and Daredevil‘s brooding popularity has managed to draw in people who don’t even know who The Avengers are. That’s not even noting the upcoming release of a new season of Orange is the New Black, another Marvel property in A.K.A. Jessica Jones, and the second season of Marco Polo (although I may be alone in that last one).
So, where does Grace and Frankie sit in the pantheon? Hard to tell. After three hours with the show, I’d need about two more appendages to fitfully count off the list of relatives older than fifty who I know would get a hoot out of the series, none of which have Netflix. And though there’s hope in those of the younger generation going along with the lackadaisical pacing and Cialis jokes, I wouldn’t exactly bet on it, especially after the whiplash-inducing spirit of Fey and Carlock’s own Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spoiled traditional sitcoms for everyone forever.
But, there’s hope. Despite redundancies, the show feels more sure of itself as it moves forward in the season. It may stumble into mediocrity with a few amateurish camera angles, awkward scene transitions, and poorly delivered lines, but the sheer star power at work in the central cast elevates it to a level Grace and Frankie otherwise would have never even dreamed of reaching. The show focuses on Fonda and Tomlin’s budding friendship for the most part – and successfully, at that – while attempting to tackle ideas like loss and change at moments later in life. But it’s also surprisingly astute at dealing with themes of individual truth and honesty.
Sheen and Waterston’s relationship, easily one of the best things about the show, is the best at communicating that, with both nagging one another about sweaters, hideous shoes and where to place medicine in the house, the sometimes saccharine implications of it never being too late to “live your truth” are always endearing and never overbearing. And maybe that’s the greatest strength of Grace and Frankie, as well as the only one it really needs: the show is about a big, gigantic, life-erupting moment, but it’s simple, (mostly) quiet, and without a cynical bone in its still-very-supple body.
Inconsistent in tone and bereft of a real handling on its titular characters' trauma, Grace and Frankie still manages to entertain thanks to a refreshing sweetness and good ol' star power.