SITCOMS, compared to other forms of comedy, are an incredibly difficult breed to nail down. As demonstrated in the past shows – ranging from Full House to Friends and even The Simpsons – each show has to both define itself and keep up with its audience and the world around them.
Grace and Frankie, well, kinda doesn’t. Made by veterans Marta Kauffman (Friends) and Howard J. Morris (Home Improvement, According to Jim), the show focuses on the eponymous Grace (Jane Fonda), a former beauty mogul and current status queen, and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), an artist deservedly worthy of the title “hippie”, as they end up living together under some unique circumstances: their respective husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston) decide to divorce them and get married to each other.
A very edgy premise, definitely, but one that’s not utilised very well, at least for now. Much of the comedy comes from the rapport of Tomlin and Fonda, no doubt coming from their 9 to 5 days. The ladies’ relationship lurches from volatile at worst to sentimental at best, with lots of comedic bumps in the middle.
Speaking of relationships, it’s very refreshing to see an older gay couple that’s desexualised but still romantic. Robert and Sol hold hands, kiss, and it’s like watching an old couple get a new lease on life. A lot of the drama comes from the dynamic between the gents and their ins and outs of being together, ranging from utter joy of being themselves, to the weariness of having to deal with coming out. On the other side, we also see the angst of the ladies having to rethink their remaining years single. At times, it’s rather harrowing; in a very symbolic gesture, we see a shot of Grace tearing out her false lashes and her extensions, revealing the broken heart rarely seen in comedy TV.
With that said, the problem the show has is that it shifts awkwardly between the drama of their children dealing with the fallout to the comedy of the ladies drinking peyote in the beach. There’s no real buffer between the two, and it almost feels like there’s a comedy/tragedy switch backstage that gets flipped between each scene. This kind of dissonance really breaks the angst of the uprooted family, and it pales dramatically to its contemporary, Amazon’s Transparent.
However, its comedy is top-notch, thanks to the physical rapport of Tomlin and Fonda, and it gives a fresh take on a rare commodity, where the older generation go out in style. We do see the kids (played here by Ethan Embry, Baron Vaughn, Brooklyn Decker, and June Diane Raphael), who all have their issues too, but in anyone else’s hands the focus will have been on them, which is getting tiresome at this point. The dynamic is natural, and it feels like Tomlin and Fonda never missed a beat since their days alongside Dolly Parton, who herself makes a guest appearance.
Overall, it’s a refreshingly funny comedy that tackles the question many older people face; “what now?” and sits it alongside the bright side of the reality of coming out at that age. It severely lacks the drama that the subject matter needs, but it more than makes up for it in its comedy. At some points it’s hard to figure out where the show stands, so your mileage may vary, but this one’s for the septuagenarians in the audience, who are most likely sick of the usual patronising on TV networks.