The Good: Amazing acting, Great characters, Very funny
The Bad: Very short season, Moments of predictability
The Basics: The six months following their husbands coming out to them lead to an interesting friendship between Grace And Frankie, two seventy year-old women who are virtual opposites!
When it comes to television I am excited about, there are few times comedies make the list. But, when I first learned about Grace And Frankie, I allowed myself to get excited. The cast looked like a refugee camp from the works of Aaron Sorkin; the four main cast members came from The West Wing (reviewed here!) and The Newsroom (season three is reviewed here!) and the premise was engaging. The preview Netflix put up weeks ago presented the first season of Grace And Frankie as a buddy comedy between Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin after their characters' husbands leave them for one another. Any show that has Fonda, Tomlin, Sam Waterston, and Martin Sheen has instant credibility and potential, but in its first season the magic of Grace And Frankie is how the show's writers and executive producers do not waste that potential.
Grace And Frankie is funny and heartwarming in its first season, when it is not agonizing for the realism and sadness it portrays. The show has a mature cast that knows what it is doing and does it incredibly well; Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda play Robert and Grace, who were married for forty years, much like Sol and Frankie, played by Sam Waterston and Lily Tomlin. The casting for types is one thing; the fact that the actors rise to the challenges of making their various relationships seem viable is genius acting.
In the first season, Grace And Frankie starts on what appears to be a typical morning in San Diego. Grace and Frankie have been told by their respective husbands to meet at a favorite restaurant for brunch and the two theorize that their husbands are going to finally retire. They are wrong; Sol stumbles through the news, so Rob tells Grace and Frankie that they are leaving their wives to marry one another. Admitting to twenty years of romantic feelings, Rob and Sol begin divorce proceedings as amicably as they can. Heartbroken, Grace moves into the beach house that the couples bought together decades before . . . but discovers the flaky, hippie Frankie there, getting high.
While Grace's daughters try to support her, Frankie feels mostly alone. Frankie and Sol's sons try to be supportive, but Coyote's addiction issues and his awkward relationship with Mallory (Robert and Grace's married daughter) make it difficult . . . as does the remaining dependence Frankie and Sol have with one another. While Grace leaps out into the dating world again, Frankie is slow to cut her ties with Sol. As Sol and Rob build to their wedding, Frankie and Grace, through living together at the beach house, strike up an unlikely friendship and respect for one another.
First and foremost, Grace And Frankie is smartly-written and frequently funny. When it is not soliciting laughs with memorable lines ("You're making the sand angry!"), the show does an excellent job of tugging at the viewer's heartstrings. Rob and Sol are good men who did a bad thing (lying to their wives for twenty years) for all the right reasons. As the show forthrightly explores their culpability in hiding the feelings Robert and Sol shared, it makes all of the parties involved entirely sympathetic. It is easy to empathize with Grace, Frankie, Robert and Sol!
On the other generational front, Grace And Frankie does in its first season what Transparent (season 1 reviewed here!) failed to do; it creates likable, interesting and (perhaps most importantly) relatable characters. Mallory and Brianna and Coyote and Bud interact as if they all grew up together and their various relationships are intriguingly presented with enough going for each character so that when the main four are not on screen, the viewer does not feel cheated (like the producers and writers are waiting out the clock for their return!).
In the first season, the essential characters in Grace And Frankie are:
Grace - An uptight ex-businesswoman, she was married to Robert for forty years. She is pissed off by Robert coming out and moves into the beach house the two couples once shared. There, she runs into Frankie, who is virtually her opposite. Through their shared experiences living together, she comes to appreciate Frankie. She begins dating an old friend of her, an explorer named Guy and works to cheer Frankie up as the wedding of Rob and Sol looms,
Robert - A divorce lawyer married to Grace for forty years, but who fell in love with Sol twenty years ago. He is more conservative than Sol and has a more assertive nature, which is why he is the one to come out to the wives. He gets upset with Sol for how attached he remains to Frankie,
Frankie - A very New Age type who teaches art to former convicts, she was married to Sol for forty years and is reviled by Grace. She and Sol did not have children biologically of their own, so they adopted Bud and Coyote. She refuses to leave the beach house when Grace abruptly moves in and after a drug-soaked night together, they begin to bond. She remains very attached to Sol, still sharing things like the annual Spelling Bee together,
Sol - A fairly flaky law partner with Robert who spent forty years married to Frankie, he is so against hurting anyone that he becomes unable to tell Frankie his feelings. He is affectionate toward Robert and struggles to make him more emotionally-realized,
Brianna - She takes over Grace's business after her mother retires from the beauty company she runs. She gets a dog and manages to get a boyfriend who works under her . . . with hilarious consequences when Coyote and Bud end up on their date,
Mallory - The married youngest daughter of Grace and Rob, she and Coyote had a relationship years ago. She has two children and is awkward around Coyote still,
Coyote - An ex-drug addict who had a blackout night that resulted in him telling Mallory his feelings, which makes being around her difficult after their parents come out. He crashes at Bud's house while getting sober and decides to look for his birth mother,
and Bud - The most well-adjusted adult child of the bunch, he works at Rob and Sol's firm and handles the divorces. He is protective of both parents and not at all against Sol and Robert's relationship . . . and there's a reason for that, which comes out on the day of the divorce.
The characters are fun and interesting and they are all incredibly well performed. In a key scene, Martin Sheen emotes with only his eyes with utter heartbreak (on a golf cart) and Sam Waterston manages to give an utterly different, but equally zany performance as his portrayal of Charlie Skinner on The Newsroom. Sheen and Waterston have amazing on-screen chemistry. Sheen and Jane Fonda and Waterston and Lily Tomlin have chemistry that make their relationships seem credible. Fonda and Tomlin give smart, daring performances and make Grace And Frankie pop.
The first season of Grace And Frankie illustrates the strength and weakness of Netflix series'. The thirteen episodes that result in just over seven hours of entertainment make the viewer desperate for more . . . and pissed that we'll have to wait at least a year for it!
For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
”Scars” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
”Grodd Lives” - The Flash
For other television reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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