Netflix’s latest original program, Grace and Frankie, has the makings of a great comedy series, but it falls a little short in Season 1. The story from the brilliant Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris highlights the life transformations of four people in their 70s, but unfortunately viewers have to get through some choppy storytelling to reach the powerful ending. Luckily, the comedy has well-developed characters and an all star cast to make up for the setbacks.
Grace and Frankie, played brilliantly by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, are two women not quite fond of one another but married to men who are the best of friends. At least that’s what they thought. It turns out that Grace’s husband Robert (Martin Sheen) and Frankie’s husband Sol (Sam Waterston) are not only law partners and friends but have been in a 20-year relationship. Grace and Frankie begins with the two men announcing the end of their current marriages and plans to marry one another. And so, the two women must figure out what’s next and soon realize they’ll have to do it together.
The immediate draw of Grace and Frankie is the amazing cast led by Fonda, Tomlin, Waterston and Sheen — and it’s doesn’t end there. The daughters of Robert and Grace, Mallory and Brianna, are played by Brooklyn Decker and June Diane Raphael, while Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn are Frankie and Sol’s adopted sons named Coyote and Nwabudike aka Bud. The equally impressive recurring cast includes Ernie Hudson, Geoff Stults, Joe Morton and Craig T. Nelson among many others.
There’s not much a cast may do if their characters aren’t well-developed, or if the writing simply isn’t there. Fortunately, the team behind Grace and Frankie has that covered. The clash between the uptight Grace and extremely laid-back Frankie is sitcom gold alone. The central couples’ four children are undoubtably distinct with Brianna and Coyote inching the other two in terms of interest level.
Grace and Frankie begins as a story of how an extended family (particularly the two older women) deal with a massive change, but in the middle, the series goes off the rails a little. You think the plot will focus on the effects of Sol and Robert’s announcement, and for a while it does, but the addition of inconclusive arcs becomes jarring.
A prime example is the relationship between Coyote and Mallory. They have a past relationship that was ruined by Coyote’s drug problem, and there is some type of romantic past between the two as well. Incidentally, the new relationship of Sol and Robert brings these two back into each other’s lives. Throughout the season, their issues should be mined and hopefully end in some sort of understanding, but instead, what is deemed unforgivable is forgiven rather quickly before Coyote randomly begins a secret search for his birth mother; a plot point that is mentioned and then forgotten.
The same goes for Bud’s storyline. Well into the series, we learn he’s been hiding a secret that could mess things up even more. This is problematic for several reasons. First, none of the other characters seem to note a change in his behavior, especially in a situation where one would probably try to overcompensate out of guilt. Secondly, the writing or storytelling doesn’t hint at anything being wrong with him. Third, the character doesn’t really have a place in the narrative, and lastly (and most importantly), the four central characters don’t care when he finally reveals the secret. So why do it?
We need to get to know the characters of Grace and Frankie before we care about them. The series makes it appear that Grace, Frankie, Sol and Robert will be the focus, which for the most part they are, but the random events placed around them seem odd. Coyote and Mallory dealing with their issues felt like a natural place to go, but Coyote’s search for his birth mother and Brianna’s love life feel like unnecessary B-stories. Especially when you consider that we don’t get to see the four of them process Sol and Robert’s relationship. Grace and Frankie should have built and examined the whole family in terms of this massive change.
Luckily, the relationship between Grace and Frankie holds the series together during the shaky middle of the first season. Each woman has a journey to discover — Grace jumps into a new relationship while Frankie learns she will have a much tougher time letting go of Sol. The relationship forged by these two woman is fun to watch, as we see Frankie try to figure out technology and Grace rediscover sex — both in equally hilarious fashion.
Another great thing about Grace and Frankie is the cohesiveness of the final episodes. We see less of the individual stories of the kids and more of the leads just figuring out their lives. The two women take on love interests and have to figure out if they are ready for a new relationship. Meanwhile, Sol and Robert have to plan their wedding and figure out everything that comes with their coming out.
Truthfully, I was conflicted while watching the series. I enjoyed more than I disliked about Grace and Frankie, but there are certainly problems. The cast is magic, and the writing is funny, but the twists and turns almost led me to stop watching. If you can get past this issue, Grace and Frankie is a hilarious, binge-worthy comedy.
Alamin Yohannes (@alamoh_) is a born and raised New Yorker and recent college graduate. There hasn’t been a television show to date that he wouldn’t at least try out, and he’s currently somewhere watching TV, writing about TV or searching for next great show.