Ever the provocateur, Norman Lear has been beating the drum for a series that takes aging comically. I mean seriously. Or as serious fodder for a sitcom. Netflix ups the stakes with Grace And Frankie, a new show going up Friday starring Jane Fonda (77) as Grace and Lily Tomlin (75) as Frankie — two sudden divorcees when their husbands, longtime law partners, announce out of the blue that they’re in love and want to move in together after 20 years on the down low. Grace’s husband, Robert, is played by Martin Sheen; Frankie’s husband Sol is played by Sam Waterston.
The brainchild of Marta Kauffman (Friends) and Howard J. Morris (Home Improvement), Grace And Frankie seems at first blush a most opportunistic sitcom: Odd Couple frenemies thrown together by unexpected circumstance-meets-Mutt & Jeff pals-turned-lovers, all of them trying to negotiate their brave new worlds.
And that’s how much of the first episode of the show plays out, as prim, seriously well-preserved Grace (Fonda is in sensational form, or to be more precise, sensational form-fitting outfits that suggest long-term value in all those workouts) gets thrown into the couples’ co-owned beach house with Tomlin’s weed-smoking, mantra-chanting, neo-hippie Frankie. Robert and Sol are their mirror images, with Sheen constantly fixing Waterston’s tie and criticizing his Robert Hall taste in clothes.
But all that’s something of a ruse. As I say in my video review above, I think Kauffman and Morris are after bigger fish, and so are the stars. Once the show finds its rhythm, it opens a window on what it’s like to be older in a youth-obssessed society. (Granted, they’re windows in any one of three extremely well-appointed SoCal homes; we’re talking about what Philadelphia Story author Philip Barry called the privileged class enjoying its privileges.) Still, Grace’s meltdown, for example, when a clueless grocery clerk guy completely ignores her, is eye-opening as well as funny. And for all the one-liners, the women dealing with loneliness and such issues as having friends and former in-laws cut them off without so much as a fare-thee-well, are certain to have a familiar discordant ring.
As they showed in 9 To 5, Fonda and Tomlin are a great comic team with fingers on the pulse of something going on in the culture. They’ve done it again, as have Kauffman and Morris with co-executive producers Skydance Productions. Do you agree? Tune in, and let us know.