SPOILER ALERT – This article assumes you’ve watched seasons 1 and 2 of ‘Grace and Frankie’. If you haven’t – and you don’t want spoilers – please leave now (and come back once you’re ready of course :-)
The show stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the title roles of Grace Hanson (Fonda) – an uptight, emotionally blocked, well to do WASP, and Frankie Bergstein (Tomlin) – a free spirited creature, pretty much the polar opposite of Grace – as their lives collide once their respective ex-husbands get married – to each other. While this gay twist is a major plot device throughout both the first two seasons, the heart and soul of the show lies with Grace and Frankie.
We initially meet them as they react to the shock of their 40+ year marriages ending, with both ladies needing to find a way to start over as they enter into their 70s. We join them as they make sense of their shattered lives, their crushed sense of what their life would/should be like at this age, the ups and downs of charting a new territory for themselves; all while navigating their newly forged friendship, which has a definite opposites attract feel to it.
One of the things I love about the show is that it covers topics that don’t initially seem like the domain of what is essentially an updated version (style-wise) of a mid-90s sitcom. Issues such as sexuality in your 70s, dealing with a crushed sense of self-identity, finding meaning in life, all come up and are handled deftly, with characteristic wit, humour and originality.
But like all good things, there is always room for some improvement. The first season was a solid beginning, and thankfully the show managed to avoid second season blues (I’m looking at you Kimmy Schmidt!) and really started to find it’s stride in the second season. The initial shock of their husbands being gay and getting divorced was replaced with more room for the ladies to grow, learn and experience themselves in the new life circumstances they find themselves in.
As much as I really enjoy the show, there are a couple of changes that I (and quite a few people on internet forums as it turns out) would love, love, love for the show’s producers and writers to consider for season 3.
The kids are not alright
Grace and Frankie each have two adult children. Grace has two daughters, Brianna and Mallory, while Frankie has two sons, Bud and Coyote. These characters are clearly supporting characters, but that doesn’t mean they need to be relegated to one dimensional status. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case here.
More frustrating though is that the kids are really annoying. They seem to have no lives, and are at the beck and call of their parents, leading them to quite often be in the same room at the same time, for no real reason really. There’s also the issue of a total lack of chemistry and believability between any of them.
While some attempts at a backstory have been made (Coyote has had substance abuse issues, both Coyote and Bud are actually adopted and Brianna is successful in business but not in love), there hasn’t been any substantial follow up. So it’s kind of hard to care about them, or even see them as real people really.
Which is a shame. The writers are obviously skilled at creating a real sense of bonding and closeness (as seen through the central relationship between Grace and Frankie). It would be great to see a bit of this rub off on the kids. While they would never warrant taking over the show, there could be room to explore these characters and interweave them with future plot lines and story development, as the show (hopefully) continues to get renewed for many seasons to come!
Plus, June Diane Raphael, who plays Brianna is really hilarious. She makes the best with what little she is given and could potentially bring a scene stealing element to the show that would really give it a lift. She’s got that whole quirky Penny from ‘Happy Endings’ vibe going on, and it would be cool to see what she could do with it. She just needs some good material to work with.
Better kill Sol
See what I did there? But seriously though, the Sol character is seriously grating. Like hand-on-cheese-grater grating. His gravelly voice and his bumbling characterisation is incredibly off-putting. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if so much of the main plot didn’t revolve around his and Robert’s 20+ year affair, behind their wives back, divorce from their wives and subsequent marriage to each other. So his character is integral to the show in an unfortunately unavoidable kind of way.
I know some people have expressed their dislike with the way the relationship between Sol and Robert is being portrayed. Some think it’s a bit cliched and doesn’t ring true. I actually don’t have a problem with it. In fact, I think there’s an innocent cuteness to the way both Robert and Sol navigate coming out so late in life. Again, that itself is not typically tv sitcom terrain, so I think the creators are exploring unchartered territory here. As such, there’s no real right or wrong way to develop this storyline and their characters, as it’s never really been done before.
But addressing the annoyingness factor of the Sol character is a must-do, mainly because it bleeds into other aspects of the show, namely his relationships with his current husband and ex-wife. It lessens the potential humour and plot development in these areas and if he’s going to continue to be a central element of the show, something needs to change – and quick. It got to the stage in season 2 where I honestly didn’t care if Robert took Sol back after sleeping with Frankie, simply because I wanted him to be with someone less annoying then Sol.
More oldies please
If the young supporting cast of children has been underwhelming, the older supporting cast have been a pleasant, albeit too brief, delight. The character of Babe (played masterfully by Estelle Parsons who you may remember as Roseanne’s TV mum) was an absolute delight towards the end of season 2. Too bad she was only around for a handful of episodes, as she breathed a renewed sense of life and spirit into the show.
Likewise, the character of Phil. More than just a potential love interest for Grace, his unfolding story of being a devoted husband and carer to a wife with dementia was an unexpected treat. His stoic and laconic manner invited viewers in and when we saw the reality of his life situation, it made you really connect with him and what he’s going through.
And how can your heart stay unmelted by Frankie’s farmer (boy)friend Jacob? He’s so sweet and lovely (and hey, easy on the eye too) that you cannot not like him.
I don’t know about you, but I love seeing these kind of older characters and ‘issues’ for lack of a better term (such as euthanasia, caring for a partner) being dealt with sensitively, but still with a sense of humour. It’s an accessible way to think about topics we might often overlook, but hey, getting older and dying are two things no one can avoid.
‘Grace and Frankie’ is a brilliant show. It’s achieved the rare feat of starting out strong, and coming out even stronger in its second season. It’s building momentum and popularity, and hopefully that will translate to the show’s creators taking some time to look at some of the relatively minor side issues, like the ones I’ve raised, to elevate and continue developing the show, allowing it to achieve its full potential.