When it was announced that Netflix was reuniting 9 to 5 co-stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin for a new online series, it was difficult to see how it could be anything but good. Indeed, the only downside was the lack of Dolly Parton. However, the series itself, Grace & Frankie, turned out to be better than we could have hoped, giving both Tomlin and Fonda plenty of space to show off their talents, while also telling a fun and timely story.
Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) are longtime frenemies, whose different outlooks on life – one a rather high-strung retired businesswoman the other a bit of an earth mother – have meant that the only thing that’s held them together is the fact their husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) are longtime friends and business partners. Or at least that’s what the women think, until their hubbies sit them down to explain that actually they’re gay and in love with each other, and plan to move out so they can be together.
Unsurprisingly it sends a massive shockwave through both women’s lives, who suddenly have to completely rethink what they think their future is going to be. Both were expecting their older age to be a certain way, but now have to adjust to being single, the fact their husbands were lovers for years, and that they need to find new anchors for their lives. Despite the fact they’ve never liked each other all that much, they come to realise that the other is the only person that really understands what they’re going through, and that they have more in common than they thought.
It’s a great mix of comedy and drama that does a great job of taking the situation and characters seriously, while finding plenty of humour in what they’re going through. It plays a delicate balance of ensuring the fallout from two women realising their husbands are gay feels real, while not laying the blame at the homosexuality itself. Indeed, Sheen and Waterston make a rather good and surprisingly sweet couple, who are aware that they have betrayed their wives but know that they need to be true to themselves.
It’s a set-up that allows Fonda and Tomlin to shine. Both play women who are rather difficult and somewhat prickly, and in less talented hands they could have seemed rather unpleasant despite their situation, but the two great actresses bring real heart and gusto to the roles. That’s particularly true of Fonda’s Grace, who you can imagine would be a bit of a nightmare to deal with in real life due to her self-regard and ability to trample over other people without thinking, but Jane handles it masterfully, with the script also giving Grace plenty of space to have to re-evaluate how she acts due to the curve ball life has thrown at her.
After debuting on Netflix, the 13 episode first season has now hit DVD, shortly before Season 2 is due to arrive on the streaming service. Whether you watch it on disc or online, it’s a great show that really grows on you the more episodes you binge on. It also helps underline that after announcing her retirement in 1991, it’s great that Jane Fonda changed her mind and is now back on the screen.
Overall Verdict: Two women dealing with having gay husbands could have been recipe for misjudged comedy and inadvertent homophobia, but thanks to smart scripts and some truly top-notch acting talent, Grace & Frankie is a great watch.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac