Grace and Frankie: Season 3 – A Review
From the beginning, I was excited about the Netlfix series Grace and Frankie, thrilled to see the talented Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie) paired as women whose husbands come out of the closet and leave their respective wives to fulfill their lifelong love for one another. It proved a compelling premise, watching these two inherently strong ladies wrestle with the fact that their marriages were not what they thought they were, having to rebuild a new life for themselves as septuagenarians, and blossoming with newfound confidence as they fight ageism and their own preconceived notions about life. Throw in the tender performances of Martin Sheen (Robert) and Sam Waterston (Saul) as their ex-husbands embracing their homosexuality late in life, and Grace and Frankie is one of the most important shows to address life beyond fifty to come along since The Golden Girls.
Season 3 of Grace and Frankie premiered on Netflix recently and I am afraid that the show has taken a turn toward the aimless, not fulfilling its potential or promise to empower these two characters to fully realized, independent women. These are characters that we are rooting for, so we want them to overcome their obstacles and their pain and grow into their new selves with storylines that are worthy of their individual and collective journeys. At this point in the show, their reliance on their ex-husbands should be waning, and although the writing has hinted at their attempts to become self-sufficient, they are often reverting to form and turning to Saul and Robert to help solve their problems. Where the writing does succeed is in how Grace and Frankie are learning to forgive their husbands for their transgressions and are developing friendships with them that are deeper than anything their marriages ever provided. It is the one place where this show continues to expose its beating heart.
One of the ongoing challenges of Grace & Frankie is the relationship between the title characters and their children. To begin, there have never been four more insufferable offspring on a TV show than those assembled here. They are petty, often selfish, mean-spirited, and/or painted as one-dimensional and vapid. Is this meant to convey the products of a loveless marriage? If so, Grace and Frankie, at some point, need to recognize this and become catalysts to their offspring’s evolution. This would give the duo a chance to move beyond their own predicaments and use their new-found independence as the impetus for leaving behind a legacy and using what they have gained to help their kids grow up. If this ever happens on the show, this could be the foundation for a meaningful and potent story arc.
Recognizing that Frankie and Grace starting a business selling vibrators for older woman is meant to be symbolic of their emerging independence and their proving a point that there is life after fifty, I cannot help but feel that the choice for them to do this is being played more for the humor and less for the statement it could be making. Finding a better balance here would certainly give their endeavor more impact. Less laughs in this arena might lend what they are doing some credence, underlining the necessity of this product instead of diminishing it by making all our eventual sexual needs a joke. It only plays in fits and starts and I’d like to see them get earned laughs rather than cheap ones.
Grace and Frankie is a show rife with possibility that feels as if it has stalled this season. Like many shows in their third season, they have found their ground but are not necessarily confident enough to take these characters forward. Some moments in the final few episodes of the show (no spoilers here) suggest some interesting twists and turns for season four. Hopefully the show will rally from this uneven season and emerge with exciting new adventures that are deserving of these two characters and of the talented actresses who portray them.