How The New Season of “Grace and Frankie” Gives Aging a Good Name
Since it’s debut back in the spring of 2015 — I’ve joined the legions of fans who were immediately captivated by Netflix’s hit comedy-drama— Grace and Frankie.
The series started off with a refreshing introduction to two older women who find themselves becoming their greatest allies — despite their vastly different lifestyles. Icons Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are perfectly cast in their roles as former wives of men who hid their affair long enough to actually fall in love with each other — at the expense of their already established households.
Fonda plays the uppity Grace Hansen — a retired businesswoman who has two daughters with Robert (Charlie Sheen) — a successful divorce lawyer who is swept off his feet by family friend and colleague — Sol Bergstein — played impeccably by Law & Order alum — Sam Waterston. Before the drama went down — Sol was married to “hippie art teacher” — Frances “Frankie”Bergstein — and they adopted two sons — and one of them boasts a Nigerian name (Nwabudike “Bud”)— which I still find quite impressive.
Seasons one and two basically tackle the complexity of the family dynamics that forces Grace and Frankie to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives together — while they watch the men that dishonored them — excitedly embark on their loving adventure as a newly married couple.
As expected it’s not an easy transition — and the two women — particularly Grace — have a challenging journey ahead as their contrasting personalities hilariously play out to the advantage of viewers — before eventually providing the solid foundation that seals this burgeoning relationship.
The series has always done a fine job of showcasing the delicate tight-rope of the aging process through the emotional and physical obstacles and triumphs of vibrant characters who prove that even though age isn’t just a number — that doesn’t mean the fun times have to end.
Grace is still loyal to her bottles of liquor almost to a fault — and her restlessness initiates her need to be a highly “functioning lush” — and this leads to the idea of partnering with her more earthy companion — who has a penchant for concocting lubricants for sexual stimulation.
The business plan is hatched and the purposely-constructed vibrators that are supposed to give older women the option for blissful release begins to take shape — amid other happenings that include — health issues, maintaining the stamina to be able to juggle both personal and professional endeavors and convincing meddling adult children to stay safely out of the way.
Season four just dropped — and needless to say — it was hard as fuck to stretch it out to a full week. The first episode sets the tone as we’re greeted with the reality of Grace and Frankie’s separation — which is signaled by the entry of a new and delightfully hyper housemate — Sheree(Lisa Kudrow) for Grace. Frankie decided to give Santa Fe a try in an effort to save her fragile relationship with organic farmer Jacob (Ernie Hudson). Her other half is also surprisingly enjoying the benefits of dating a much younger business rival — Nick (Peter Gallagher) whose devotion is infectiously endearing.
Unlike past seasons — things move very quickly this time around — and before you can say “vibrator” — Sheree is out and Frankie is back to assume her role as Grace’s faithful “tormentor” and partner-in-crime while preparing to be a first-time grand-parent — thanks to Bud’s impending bundle of joy with eccentric girlfriend — Allison.
As expected — Frankie and Jacob split up after it becomes clear that a long-distance relationship just isn’t a feasible. Grace tries in vain to distance herself from the dashing Nick — but relents when he enforces his commitment. And the vibrator business seems to be in limbo as the restless partners try to devise innovative ways to keep afloat.
But what is really commendable about this new season is the way in which the writers expertly navigate the realities of aging with refreshing gusto and astute efficiency — that doesn’t dare dilute the wonderful intensity that normally overwhelms the later years.
Our beloved protagonists are faced with the task of saying final goodbyes to old friends while periodically checking in on the ones that remain and are stationed in regulated environments — that soberly threaten the dreamy notion of a carefree future. This is evident when both gals decide to stage a pop-up vibrator shop at the senior center where a friend is residing.
Getting older is the process of “letting go” and adjusting to the fact that things will not get any easier as the years whiz by.
The past seasons of Grace and Frankie — hilariously presented this truth — but this time around — the message is dramatized with a real sense of urgency as we watch Grace battle the physical traumas that are typical of someone in her age range — while Frankie’s kookiness takes a more questionable turn.
To make matters worse — the home they share is falling apart at the seams, Frankie inexplicably drives to Mexico with her newborn granddaughter in tow — and Grace’s drinking accelerates to match the painful aftermath of her knee surgery — which causes her other knee to buckle.
Things get hectic when the doting children start interfering again and based on their observations — decide to take drastic measures to secure the safety of their aging mothers. The four blended siblings conspire to dupe Grace and Frankie into willingly surrendering to the same assisted living facility that houses Grace’s close friend Arlene (Marsha Mason).
The notable aspect of this development is how this decision was promptly reached without any room for flexibility or consideration for the fact that the trials plaguing each woman could realistically happen to anyone.
There’s also the exposure of the problems ailing the kids themselves as Brianna (June Diane Raphael) mistakenly runs her mother’s once thriving business into the ground while her recently separated younger sister Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) is struggling to co-parent four children as she succumbs to the fear of never working again.
The ex-husbands are also battling the symptoms of a waning relationship that enlightens them into an unconventional and risky fix.
The truth is that viewers are given more than a glimpse of how older people are often times reduced to helpless toddlers at the first signs of inconsistency or proof that perhaps the gradual erosion of the mind and body is potentially happening at a more rapid rate than anticipated.
According to a recent population report:
“Between 2012 and 2050, the United States will experience considerable growth in its older population. In 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million, almost double its estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.”
Those statistics include my generation and even as I try to make nice with the decade of my forties — I can’t avoid the avalanche of changes that have rocked my world into the scope of my impending mortality. Getting out of bed after a rigorous night of socializing isn’t as seamless as it used to be, my knees noisily cry out when I stoop down out of necessity and my hormones won’t stop assaulting me for waiting this long to consider motherhood.
Watching the characters of Grace and Frankie grapple with the consequences of living a long life with the finesse of poised resolution — and enough stubbornness to charismatically fight for the right to be elderly and independently functional — despite the buzzing naysayers — and non-stop road blocks — is exactly the level of honesty that is needed when producing a show that centers around a relatable and ultra-sensitive topic.
At the end of a whirlwind season — we are left with the image of our heroines happening upon another shocker that instantly uproots their once stable existence. It’s a foreboding juncture that once and for all solidifies their unbreakable bond and unshakable faith.
And while we wait and hope for another opportunity to watch Grace and Frankie rise again with seductive fury — it feels good to be blindsided by their vulnerability and never-changing loyalty to the vices that almost always get them into trouble.
Like they say — old habits should die hard.