The New York Narrative Binge: “Grace and Frankie”

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Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda going through the stages of grief…

In keeping with tradition Netflix has given us another binge-worthy addictive series. While the online streamer has delivered amazing dramas like “Bloodline” and “Daredevil,” they’re offering up something a little different and not surprising for them also daring: a female driven comedy with mega-iconic actresses.

Two time Oscar winner Jane Fonda plays Grace, the beautifully vain wife of Robert (Martin Sheen) who makes up one half of law firm Hanson and Bergstein. The other half is quirky Sol (Sam Waterston) who’s wife Frankie is an Earth Mamma to the max portrayed brilliantly by Oscar nominee Lily Tomlin.

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(L to R) Sol (Sam Waterston), Frankie (Lily Tomlin), Grace (Jane Fonda) and Robert (Martin Sheen) at that fateful dinner 

A forced dinner finds  Grace and Frankie arriving first allowing daggers and shade to be thrown while waiting for their respective husbands, these ladies don’t like each other much. Thinking an announcing of their husbands retirement is on the menu was a mistake, instead they tell their wives of 25 years they are Gay and leaving them— to marry one another. Hilarity ensues from here leaving Grace irrationally throwing shellfish and Frankie having an anxiety attack.

If you’re not hooked at this point, then your taste in comedy is seriously questionable. Post dinner lands Grace and Frankie stuck with one another at their shared Beach House in San Diego after they both moved out of their respective homes. Figuring out what’s next and how to cope with everything they’ve known being ripped out from under them.

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Grace in a leisure suit, Frankie in a big hat

“Grace and Frankie” comes by way of producers Marta Kauffman (a little show called “Friends”) and Howard J.Morris (“Sullivan and Son”) delivering exactly what they do best: a well rounded, actually funny, sitcom. Up to par with Netflix other original programming, the production value, lighting, sets, and costumes are extremely well executed making the show feel more like 13 mini-films and less like a budget NBC sitcom.

While visually fantastic, the tone of the show can sometimes veer off course a bit. Generally well balanced with just the right amount of heart, there are moments where Lily Tomlin is so Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda is so Jane Fonda. But the ladies are both producers on the show so maybe they got free rein. Personally, I see no issue here.

TV STILL -- DO NOT PURGE -- Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen in the Netflix Original Series "Grace and Frankie". Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ü

Sol and Robert realizing they no longer have to hide who they are 

While it’s recently been revealed that Ms. Fonda and Ms.Tolin are making the same amount at their fellow male co-stars (it’s called Grace and Frankie, people…come on…this confuses me), make no mistake: this is Jane and Lily’s show. While Mr. Sheen and Mr. Waterston are charming and have great comedic timing, it’s about the ladies. As it should be.

Ms.Fonda has never been better and has never been given a character more perfect for her. Instead of Grace’s beauty and sophistication resulting in the character to be unlikable, Ms.Fonda brings vulnerability and intrigue in her performance. Her “9 to 5” BFF Ms.Tomlin’s Frankie couldn’t be more a gift for the actress who nails every quirk and off beat line she delivers. There’s one particular episode where they dress one another and have a night out on the town. It’s refreshing as they’re actually nice and complimentary to one another— something rarely seen in a female driven anything. 

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Grace comes around at some point to Frankie

Netflix is no stranger to taking risks, and even though it’s nauseating to say, having a sitcom led by two slightly older women is a risk. Why, we will never know, but the “risk” has paid off. Not only do they get to show off their comedic chops, but Ms.Fonda and Ms.Tomlin are having fun. A lot of fun.

Not only can one tell they’re having a great time, but they are also not shying away from issues of aging, vanity, and feeling irrelevant once you’ve passed 40.  There’s an amazing scene where Ms.Fonda strips down her glamorous exterior of clip in hair pieces, faux eyelashes, and what can only be described as a piece of wire pulling back her already gorgeous face giving an “enhanced” look. It’s brave and shows the reality of what women have to do in order to be accepted by society.

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Supporting cast Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) and Brianna (June Diane Raphael)

With great leads, the supporting cast is also really strong. The dynamic between Grace’s daughters Brianna (June Diane Raphael) and Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) and Frankie’s adopted children former addict Coyote (Ethan Embry) and Nwabudike (Baron Vaughn) brings the level of “sitcom” Netflix needs to gain a larger audience.

Of all the kids, Ms.Raphael is the real standout. Anyone who is familiar with her work knows she’s an incredibly gifted comedic actress and luckily her skill set is in full use here. Something a bit of surprise was how much Ms.Decker (former model, current wife of Andy Roddick) held her own; she’s the right amount of wound tight and funny that brings another dimension to the cast. Mr.Embry does a good job at balancing bohemian Coyote as for most of the series he’s trying to prove himself after his battle with drugs and alcohol. While Mr.Vaughn is fine enough, his acting comes off a little too “sitcom-y” resulting in being the weaker of the ensemble.

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More stages of grief… 

“Grace and Frankie” has already been picked up for season two, and when you watch episode 13 you’ll know why. Enjoy 13 streaming episodes of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin realness in  “Grace and Frankie” only on Netflix.

All images courtesy of Netflix

© Copyright 2015 The New York Narrative. All rights reserved.

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