When long-time law partners Sol (Sam Waterson) and Richard (Martin Sheen) organise a big dinner for their wives, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), the last thing the women suspect is that the men are about to break up their marriages and declare they have been in a relationship with one another for the past 20 years. But as the opening to Netflix’s comedy grabs hold, we begin to watch these two men finally free and the ripples they cause, mostly in the lives of the two 70-year-old women, now thrown into a world they were never prepared to see again: the world of uncertainty.
Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman and writer Howard J. Morris have created something quite spectacular in Grace and Frankie, which takes the notion of an odd couple sitcom and blends it with family drama. It’s a mix the likes of which Amazon’s Transparent honed wonderfully last year and Netflix’s new original series steps up to the bat with writing that matches the cast in wit, wisdom and nuance. Frankie is a hippy-dippy woman, full of natural drugs and pessimism, Grace is a wealthy, upper-crust WASP, spiralling now she’s lost all that she knew. They know each other, but never truly got along, and now have to live together. This is all easy writing, but it never comes across as sitcommy or simple: there’s so much texture to every character, the blank canvass of a stereotype turning into much deeper humanity and multi-dimensional crafting before the first episode ends.
We spend most of our time in the opening five chapters with the pair, but we also get to see Richard and Sol, as they begin their new life, and the two families’ children (Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn on Frankie’s side, Brooklyn Decker and June Diane Raephel on Grace’s), as their lives change, with new step-siblings and new step-fathers. Beyond all the opportunities for farce, the humour comes from the finely written characters, every single one of the cast digging deep to create more in a scene than some shows do in a season. It makes the show hysterical with great frequency, but also heartbreaking and beautifully sad; by the end of the first episode, the connection between characters and the audience is so strong that it is completely affecting – and there’s still so much more to go through.
Grace and Frankie is designed for the binge-watch: stories run through with over-hanging issues and changes in the status quo, and the pacing makes everything seem to end before you want it to (in the best way), leaving you longing to continue the journey, to spend another half-hour with these people, who, even at their worst, are fascinating. The show finds its voice quickly and never loses sight. The visuals match it: this is a gorgeous looking, low-key comedy drama that is made to be devoured and savoured at the same time.
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are so enjoyable to watch, whatever they’re doing, be it big and broad or small and sobering; the dynamics and interplay, the foot-in-mouth moments, the glances and glares, the moments of ‘them and us’ with Richard and Sol. It’s great that Netflix got such well defined talents on board, and even better that they made a show that perfectly accentuates them, and gives these women more opportunities to remind the world that they ooze class.
The end result is an excitingly good show, one that feels rich and welcoming. If this isn’t the next big programme people are tweeting about, the next big series to storm the Emmys, then there’s no justice in the world. Perhaps even better than BoJack Horseman and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix’s comedy team has hit another stunning home run.
All episodes of Grace and Frankie Season 1, 2 and 3 are available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. You can read our review of Season 2 here and Season 3 here.
Photo: Melissa Moseley/Netflix