Airtime: Friday, May 6th on Netflix
Episode: Season 2 (S02)
Tweetable Takeaway: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin shine in a stellar second season of #GraceAndFrankie
In its second season, GRACE AND FRANKIE reveals itself to be one of the most thoughtful, enjoyable comedies out there, addressing issues like having sex in your seventies, dementia, and even euthanasia with an appealing mix of humor and heart. Don’t let the seeming darkness of those last two topics fool you. This is an upbeat show, one that even in its more somber second half of the season foregrounds the idea that life is something that should always be appreciated and lived to its fullest.
Quick recap for those new to the show: Grace and Frankie centers on two 70-somethings, odd couple Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), who are forced to live together when their husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterson) divorce them in order to marry each other. There’s tragedy inherent in that premise. Their husbands carried on a decades long affair behind their backs. If that wasn’t complicated enough, at the end of the first season, Sol slept with Frankie, thereby cheating on Robert with the person he was formerly cheating on with Robert. This season sets aside the conflict of divorce to focus on the blending of the two clans into one happy family and the friendship between Grace and Frankie. Last season, they were often portrayed as bickering roommates. This season, they are true friends, and their chemistry is delightful to watch.
This season also sets aside the weird hints at a romantic relationship between Frankie’s son Coyote (Ethan Embry) and Grace’s married daughter Mallory (Brooklyn Decker). It was the weakest subplot of last season, and it’s thankfully never mentioned in this season. Instead, the adult children are giving storylines that really let them shine. Mallory is pregnant again, this time with twins, which brings up Grace’s awkwardness around children and her insecurities about her role as grandmother, especially compared to Mallory’s husband Mitch’s mom Jean (Conchata Ferrell), the fun grandma. Brianna (a scene-stealing June Diane Raphael) decides to sell Frankie’s homemade yam lube, only to find that Frankie is not the easiest business partner. Coyote begins to look up to Robert as a father figure while continuing his search and eventually finding his birth mother, while his brother Bud (the always hilarious Baron Vaughn) tries to keep everyone and everything together. Just like Grace and Frankie really care for each other, Mallory, Brianna, Bud, and Coyote unconditionally support each other, with the competitive, driven nature of the Hansons blending with the open-minded and emotional Bergsteins to create a new kind of family.
A medical emergency sends Robert, and by extension, the entire Bergstein/Hanson family, to the hospital in the first episode. Last season spent some time planning Robert and Sol’s wedding, with Robert wanting a big, ostentatious affair. Instead, we get a small, intimate wedding set in a hospital waiting room, as Robert doesn’t want to go into surgery without marrying Sol. Frankie herself is forced to officiate, channeling some of Grace’s determination to overcome her ambivalence at performing a wedding she didn’t even want to attend in the first place. It’s just one example of how our two leads opposite personalities have influenced the other in surprising and helpful ways.
When Sol marries Robert, he’s still keeping the fact that he had sex with Frankie secret, as he doesn’t want to stress out a man in the hospital. The secret doesn’t come out until the sixth episode, but it’s played more for heart than drama. The two reconcile, but their short time apart gives them both a chance to do some self-reflecting. The show also touches on the interesting idea of now that Sol and Robert are officially out, how do two 70-something-year-old men navigate the gay community? Society has changed a lot throughout their lifetimes. They’re still figuring it out, but there’s a sweet moment when Sol brings drag queen show tune singalong bingo to Robert’s hospital room.
But this isn’t Robert and Sol. It’s Grace and Frankie, and the two female leads are at the top of their game. Lily Tomlin deserves an Emmy—every line out of her mouth is hilarious. That’s because this season, she isn’t worried about Sol anymore. She’s focused on herself, getting a driver’s license, going into business with Brianna, and rekindling her romance with Yam Man Jacob (Ernie Hudson). Brianna’s decision to manufacture and sell Frankie’s yam lube pits the two hilariously against each other as Frankie turns out to be more trouble than Brianna bargained for. If you weren’t aware of the horrors of palm oil before watching this show, you’re in for a real wake-up call, courtesy of Frankie, who turns a business meeting into a piece of performance art.
Meanwhile, Grace, who has allowed some of Frankie’s vulnerabilities to break down her tough exterior, finds an old flame Phil (Sam Elliott). The two begin seeing each other again, but it’s complicated by the fact that Phil is still married, mainly out of a sense of duty. He was planning on divorcing his wife when she began showing signs of dementia. It’s a heavy storyline, but the show manages to find glimmers of hope and humor in the situation. A similarly weighty storyline revolves around Frankie and Grace’s mutual bon vivant friend Babe (legendary theater actress Estelle Parsons), who’s terminally ill and wants their support in dying on her terms. I can’t imagine another show, especially a comedy, addressing issues like these front and center. It’s part of what makes Grace and Frankie so special.
Last season was criticized for feeling too stereotypically “sitcommy” at times, and this season isn’t immune to that critique, especially in the earlier episodes, where the wacky set-ups wouldn’t feel out of place in a multi-cam sitcom. However, the power of the chemistry and friendship between the two leads overcomes that issue. The show excels at showcasing and exploring relationships, be it friendship, love, or sibling rivalry. And it is just fun hanging out with these characters. I devoured the thirteen-episode season in one sitting and was eager for more. If you haven’t yet already, go to Netflix and give this show a chance. It’s a surprising, often laugh-out-loud funny treat.
Jennifer Trofa lives for two things: spreading the “Superstore” gospel and themed “Law & Order: SVU” marathons on USA.
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor