Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tread Toward Heartbreaking: Grace And Frankie Season Two Moves Fast To Drama!

The Good: Amazing performances, Great character development
The Bad: Most of the mood, Predictable plots
The Basics: Grace And Frankie Season Two starts funny, but quickly develops into a serious series of episodes filled with the main four characters tormented and moody.

I am a big fan of genre-bending works and I know I have not always been. When I first reviewed the Hem album Eveningland (reviewed here!), for example, I devoted way too much time to trying to place it within a genre to define it than I did appreciating what the album actually contained. Since then, though, my tastes have matured and I have come to appreciate a great work that is not bound by the conventions of a single genre. And yet . . .

. . . I have spent the past few months since the second season of Grace And Frankie was released belaboring how to review it. I was captivated pretty immediately by Grace And Frankie Season 1 (reviewed here!) and I was eagerly looking forward to the second season. But, when the first preview trailer for the second season of Grace And Frankie was released, I was unsettled to notice that Martin Sheen barely appeared in the trailer and I attentively observed that many of the characters in one scene wore hospital visitor badges. Given the character-shaking events of the first season finale of Grace And Frankie, I felt this did not necessarily bode well.

And, in many ways, it did not.

It is impossible to discuss the second season of Grace And Frankie without referencing where the first season ended. Because the second season picks up on the same day and is preoccupied with the ramifications of some of the events of the first season's finale, much of the second season of Grace And Frankie treads dramatic, as opposed to comedic. At the completion of the first season, my wife and I tried to guess where the second season would go and I made the comment at the time that the best possible direction Grace And Frankie Season Two could go would be having Sol and Frankie's indiscretion accepted and lovingly forgiven by Robert. That would have been different, would allow the show to continue to grow with all of its characters and be funny, and it would have made a lot of sense for the character of Robert (who, in the first season, revealed that he had been with other men than Sol, while the opposite was not true).

Alas, though, Grace And Frankie Season Two did not go in that direction. And, fortunately, the season did not go in the way that was immediately predictable from the trailer - that Sol told Robert he slept with Frankie and he had a heart attack. No, Grace And Frankie Season Two belabors honesty and consequences and, while the season opens with Lily Tomlin portraying Frankie with her delightful ridiculous comedic deliveries, the season quickly turns away from the humor and absurdity that made the first season so good.

Opening with Grace and Frankie leaving the beach after Frankie's surprising day where she hooked up with Sol, Sol returns home to find Robert unconscious. Robert had a heart attack and as Grace, Frankie, and the children converge upon Sol and Robert at the hospital, Sol freaks out about the new secret he has from Robert. Robert wants to be married before going under the knife and Sol objects to marrying him while the secret is between them. Convinced by Grace to go through with the wedding before telling Robert the truth, Frankie marries Sol and Robert.

The season takes a sharp turn away from the comedic by the end of the fourth episode, "The Road Trip." In that episode, the weight of Sol's secret begins to crush him and Grace has her first face to face encounter with Phil Milstein in years. Far from being a romantic reunion, Phil rejects Grace and Grace turns to her old "friends" for companionship. Frankie begins to have serious memory problems and Sol tells Robert the truth, which leads Robert to reject his husband. While Sol laments losing Robert, Grace is tormented by what a relationship with Phil might mean, Frankie stumbles in her relationship with Jacob and Coyote meets his birth mother.

The longer the second season of Grace And Frankie goes on, the less the episodes play toward humor. From the horrifying attempt Frankie makes to wake Say Grace up to the evils of palm oil to the agonizing decision Grace has to make in relation to Phil and his dementia-riddled wife, the stories become inherently dramatic. As Robert and Sol struggle to find themselves, Frankie has to help a friend in pain die. Even the season's climax with Grace's new business venture is approached with dramatic realism for the problem Grace wants to solve before it moves toward humor.

Despite the tension and torsion, Grace And Frankie remains well worth watching.

In the second season, the essential characters in Grace And Frankie are:

Grace - Taking control of the situation in the hospital, she begins hunting for a person who can marry Robert and Sol. She convinces Frankie to marry the guys. She quickly learns just how connected Robert and Sol are by visiting the house the men share together now. After stealing the vitamax from Robert and Sol, she tries to help out with Mallory's children and gets very jealous of Mallory's mother-in-law. She is goaded by Frankie into getting in contact with Phil Milstein, her old crush. She unsuccessfully mentors a brutish ex-soldier. After discovering her old socialite friends are not actually decent friends at all, she accepts Phil's friend request and discover he is open to a relationship with her . . . despite him still being married,

Robert - Having a heart attack, he insists on marrying Sol before going under the knife. He wakes up to find Coyote watching over him while Grace and Frankie get supplies from the house. He surprises everyone by showing enthusiasm for Drag Queen Bingo and finally being out and proud. He rejects Brianna's power-life chair and his stashes of things unhealthy for him are found by his family around the house. When Sol comes clean with him, he kicks Sol out of their house,

Frankie - Eager to redefine herself post-Sol, after having slept with him, she comes clean to the children in order to move along the healing process. She marries Robert and Sol and becomes a bit of a kleptomaniac while visiting their house in the aftermath. She approaches Jacob for yams again when Brianna wants to sell her yam-based lube. She hunts down Phil Milstein for Grace, while she tries to find her own best self. She loathes driving on the freeway, which she finds it impossible to merge onto. She declares herself an amature sluth to move forward Grace's relationship with Phil. She starts to develop real memory problems and gets high in order to pass her driving test. After accidentally snubbing Jacob, she gives a relationship with him a fair shot, despite him hunting a boar on his farmland. She bonds with Robert after she and Sol sleep with one another. As her business relationship with Brianna falls apart, she makes a difficult choice to help an old friend end her life with dignity,

Sol - Guilt-stricken over having slept with Frankie, he marries Robert without telling him. When he is hit with a massive bill for Robert's hospital stay, he organizes the patients who are being overcharged to threaten the hospital with legal action. When he reads the vows Robert wrote, his guilt overcomes him and he desperately tries to use his family as a buffer. Unable to live in with the secret, he comes clean and ends up estranged from Robert. After being kicked out by Robert, he ends up crashing on Grace and Frankie's porch for a night, before struggling on his own in a horrible apartment,

Brianna - About to go on a date when Robert has his heart attack, she uses her efficient manner to cancel the would-be guests at the now-cancelled wedding. She decides to try to sell Frankie's yam-based lube through her Say Grace company, but runs into difficulty with mass-producing it in a way that Frankie approves. She tries to take care of her father with a power lift chair, which he rejects. She reluctantly outs her relationship with her accountant Barry at work, though none of her subordinates are surprised. Appalled by how Frankie acts in their business venture, she fires her,

Mallory - Irked at being picked on for getting fat, she admits to everyone that she is pregnant now with twins. She turns to Grandma Jean (her husband's mother) for help with taking care of her children because she wants them to have fun and be taken care of. She confesses to Grace that Grace has never been the best mother, but the two begin to have an honest dialogue. Bedridden from her difficult pregnancy, she comes to believe her husband is cheating on her,

Coyote - In taking care of Robert during his recovery, he tries to make amends for all his past wrongs, from when he was high. He begins to worry about Frankie's memory. He learns about his birth mother and when she contacts him, the event is disastrous,

and Bud - He becomes Frankie's legal counsel during the negotiations for the yam lube. He bears the brunt of Robert and Sol's fall-out by picking up the slack they leave at work.

Jane Fonda's performance in the first episode of the second season of Grace And Frankie is more than enough to convince viewers that she has been robbed during awards season by not even being nominated for her acting. Her portrayal of Grace is the stuff of great drama and while Martin Sheen can act the hell out of a reaction without saying a word, Fonda takes an amazing leap into dramatic heavyhitting in the second season of Grace And Frankie. Fonda has amazing range for her facial expressions and perhaps the most amazing aspect of the second season of Grace And Frankie is that there is only one moment when she noticeably breaks.

Lily Tomlin is predictably brilliant as Frankie. Tomlin is hilarious and plays Frankie as delightfully goofy. Her acting chops are revealed, though, in her on-screen chemistry with Ernie Hudson. Frankie has incredible chemistry with Jacob and Tomlin and Hudson play it with an effortless quality. Tomlin's range is impressive; her dramatic scenes with Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda are subtle and powerful.

Sam Waterston is good as Sol, though he plays him with a goofy quality that he's had since the first episode and Brooklyn Decker is almost entirely neglected in the second season of Grace And Frankie. Baron Vaughn is underused in the second season of Grace And Frankie, though he does fine with what he is given. Similarly, Martin Sheen dominates the scenes he is in, but her does not have a ton of material in the second season. Ethan Embry and June Diane Raphael have the chance to illustrate that they are the credible successors to Tomlin, Fonda and Sheen in the second season of Grace And Frankie. Embry is given a big episode when Coyote meets his birth mother and when he plays off Sheen by trying to make amends, he makes Coyote an impressively deep character in a way he was not previously given the chance. Raphael is great and steps out of her first season shadow of Brianna simply being terse. Brianna becomes professional and a surprising natural successor to Fonda's Grace at Say Grace in the second season and the credibility of Brianna's arc is in no small part due to June Diane Raphael's performance.

Season two of Grace And Frankie is good, but there is the feeling of "bait and switch" not only between the first and second season, but within the second season itself. The initial goofiness of the second season is replaced by a lot of heaviness as the episodes progress. It is easy to recognize and applaud the character growth in the second season of Grace And Frankie, but the way the season transitions into harsh realism for some of its conflicts is occasionally disconcerting. Sure, that's life, but it's not always entertainment and Grace And Frankie is not as uplifting or entertaining in its second season as it was in the first.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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