The First Wives Club

Since I talked about Dolly Parton in my last post, why not circle around and pick up my other 9 to 5 ladies while I'm at it? The new Netflix series Grace and Frankie is a bit of an odd duck. It was co-created by Marta Kauffman (of Friends fame), and has a star-studded cast, from Jane Fonda to Lily Tomlin to Sam Waterston to Martin Sheen. Sounds like a big, major deal, right? Then why did it arrive on the pop culture scene so quietly? You can't scroll down a Facebook feed without bumping into a bunch of posts referring to Game of Thrones or Scandal, but Grace and Frankie has barely stirred a murmur. Television websites either ignored it or treated it as cursory.

I'll talk about theatricality in a moment, but the premise fits right into that adjective. Grace and Frankie are the wives of two law partners. Forced to socialize by the close relationship of their husbands, they maintain a superficial friendship that neither one of them particularly values. All hell breaks loose when their husbands announce that they are gay, have been cheating on their wives for the better part of twenty years, and are breaking up both marriages in order to marry each other. Naturally this devastates Grace and Frankie, and they both retreat to the beach house that the families co-own. From there, it's a matter of reforging and redefining the friendship, despite their differences. They also have to contend with the ex-husbands who are still big parts of their lives, and their confused children.

In many ways, this show is The Odd Couple + Golden Girls + The Ability to Say "Fuck". Doesn't sound half bad, huh? Grace (Fonda) is somewhat of an ice queen, overly interested in appearances and social conventions, and tightly-wound. Frankie (Tomlin) is a sensitive, earthy hippie who smokes peyote and makes her own vaginal lube out of sweet potatoes. The episodes' plotlines wander all over the place, from the invisibility of older women in modern society to navigating social gatherings where your ex is present to how to start a new romantic life in your later years.

So, theatricality. Grace and Frankie is strange, in that it appears to want to have things two ways: It wants to tell relatable, grounded stories based in real life, while simultaneously presenting things that would look more at home on the wackiest sitcom imaginable. Revelations in a stuck elevator? Check! Baby born in an unexpected place in the span of two minutes? Check! When the show indulges itself in these scenes, I don't care for it very much. But then something remarkable happens. It pulls back, and returns to telling some pretty compelling stories about reinventing yourself after so many years of a comfortable existence.

Sheen and Waterston are fine, but not very believable as gay (or as a couple). The scenes with just the two of them tend to drag. The kids are far more interesting. There's a harried mother (Brooklyn Decker), a recovering addict (Ethan Embry) and a reliable attorney (Baron Vaughn), but most of the screentime is given to Grace's blunt, aggressive daughter Brianna (June Diane Raphael), who is a real bright spot in this show.

I waffled on the grade for this season, but after some thought, I realized that I'm actively looking forward to seeing what happens to these characters. Season 2 hasn't been announced, but I'm hoping it comes to fruition. There may be some hackneyed scenes scattered through this inaugural season, but overall, it's a well-written, well-acted, well-shot show that is definitely worth your time. So now that this post has been dispensed with, what's Dabney Coleman up to?

Grace and Frankie - Season 1: B


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