Now it in its third season, GRACE AND FRANKIE isn’t interested in winning new fans. The show is unapologetic in the types of stories it wants to tell and lead actresses Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are unabashed in their portrayals of the titular duo as two aging women fighting back against a society that wants to render them obsolete. The comedic timing and chemistry between the two lifelong friends, as well as between their ex-husbands played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson, is so effortless that it looks easy, but it’s difficult to make a show starring four septuagenarians appeal to audiences both young and old. The fact that Grace and Frankie has achieved this without shying away from depicting some of the more sobering realities of aging is admirable.
However, another thing the show isn’t interested in changing this late in the game are its tonal problems. In this so-called golden age of TV, where shows like Transparent can be nominated for best comedy awards, it may seem a bit pointless to argue whether a show, especially a streaming one, is a comedy or drama–the lines have already been blurred. But the big swings between light-hearted comedy and life-or-death drama can still be a little jarring. This season opens with a hilarious, absurd scene where a bunch of animated dildos chase Frankie down the beach, so the writers definitely aren’t afraid to go broad with comedy. It’s also not afraid to discuss the very real fears of the elderly, as in episode 12, Frankie learns that she’s susceptible to potentially fatal strokes after a medical scare.
The way the show addresses aging isn’t always this serious. In the season premiere, Grace and Frankie go to a bank to apply for a loan for their vibrator business, only to have the banker turn them down because he’s afraid that they won’t live long enough to pay it back. It’s a hilarious scene that lampoons the expectations society has for elderly women. They’re supposed to fade quietly in the background, but not Grace and Frankie. In the very next episode, they go to a tech incubator (sadly not a chicken incubator like Frankie hopes for) in hopes of getting the money. The startup world has been ridiculed plenty of times before, but the show keeps it fresh by switching it up. Instead of having Grace, the business-minded one, fit into the tech world, it’s Frankie who can relate to them, hopping right into an office-wide game of laser tag.
The second episode of the season also features Grace and Frankie arguing over the focus of their company. Grace wants to concentrate on vibrators, while Frankie and Jacob have developed an easy to open condom, after having issues tearing open the tiny package the night before. Grace is shocked to learn that they’re having actual “penis in vagina” sex, as last season Frankie wasn’t sure if she was ready for the level of intimacy. Grace questions as to why someone at her age would even need a condom, as there’s no chance at pregnancy, but Frankie points out that just because they’re old, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be having casual sex with multiple partners. It’s something that the show has always championed, but especially so in this season–just because women grow older doesn’t necessarily mean that their desires have to change.
The tech incubator declines to invest, as they don’t actually want to manufacture products, they just want to “disrupt” industries. However, Brianna offers to invest. She does this after making up with Frankie after their fight last season, finding her on a park bench where she likes to go to watch people fall into puddles after it rains, a perfect absurdist touch. Brianna tells Frankie to keep it a secret from Grace, so Frankie lies and tells her that Jacob is the mystery investor. This accomplishes two goals–it covers up Brianna’s involvement and convinces Grace that Jacob has forgiven her for her past behavior. Jacob has always seen Grace as an obstacle to his relationship with Frankie and doesn’t trust her to have Frankie’s best interests at heart.
Of course, the truth eventually comes out. Grace’s objections to Brianna’s investment stem from the fact that she doesn’t want to admit she’s at an age where she might need help from her children. Parents are supposed to help out their kids, not the other way around. But part of growing older is learning to accept help, even when it might seem embarrassing. After both Grace and Frankie fall and can’t get up, Bud buys them life alerts. Grace refuses to wear hers, but it saves the day when Frankie has a mini-stroke after they leave a business meeting. Frankie learns that she suffered another stroke about ten years ago, which left a lesion on her brain, making it incredibly likely that she’ll have another one.
One of the biggest delights this season was seeing Brianna and Mallory’s characters grow. June Diane Raphael is a comedic genius, but the show sometimes uses her character as a snarky joke machine. This season, Mallory calls her out on that behavior, confronting her about how she treats her kids. Brianna isn’t the most maternal or loving person–she refers to her heart as “that red bloody thing”–but she realizes that she’s ready to move forward in her relationships. Unfortunately, she realizes this after breaking up with Barry in episode two. The season ends with her in Baltimore, attempting to win him back.
Mallory makes a major decision this season too. She decides to leave Mitch, as she realizes that her relationship lacks the passion of Robert and Sol’s. She wants to be with someone who loves her the way the two of them love each other. Robert and Sol’s storyline this season centers around Robert joining the cast of a gay theater production of 1776, while dealing with the death of his mother. The musical subplot was hampered by the prominence of Peter (Tim Bagley), who’s directing the play. His character is one-note and a bit stereotypical. It grows grating over time.
Robert’s able to participate in the play because he makes the decision to retire. Sol resists retirement for as long as he can, but decides to leave after realizing the parallels between him and the firm’s elderly secretary–they both need to let someone younger run the show. Sol isn’t cast in the play, but turns to activism after confronting homophobic protesters outside the theater. The protesters subplot was a weak spot this season. It felt aimless and grew repetitive, but lead to an adorable scene where Robert shows up while Sol’s getting arrested, going out of his way to get arrested so he can be with him.
Bud and Coyote’s characters were fairly static this season, lacking the growth of Brianna and Mallory. Coyote finally moves out of Bud’s apartment and into a tiny house, while Bud begins dating Allison (Lake Bell), whose character is an almost unbearably annoying presence on the show. In the final episode of the season, Allison announces she’s pregnant, so it unfortunately looks like she might be here to stay.
The season ends on a note of uncertainty. Grace encourages Frankie to go with Jacob to Santa Fe, potentially moving there permanently. Grace and Frankie’s friendship is heartwarming–it’s been a joy watching them grow from adversaries in season one to each other’s biggest cheerleaders this season. Overall, this season was touching, bold, and often very, very funny.
Season 3, Episodes 1-13 (S03E01-13)
Grace and Frankie is now streaming on Netflix
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor