To be frank, any project that is going to team up Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin already has my vote.
So it was with much delight that I read the synopsis for Grace and Frankie, the new US comedy in which they play seniors who discover their husbands have fallen in love and are leaving them for a gay wedding. Enter Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston -honestly, could it get any better?
The premise is so perfectly simple this could really be a feature comedy. Instead it is a 13 part series created by Marta Kauffman (Friends) and Howard J. Morris. Unlike Friends, and for that matter The Golden Girls, this is no multicamera studio sitcom. It is single camera and on location with no laugh track.
With a decidedly bittersweet taste, think The Big C, Enlightened and United States of Tara. It all unravels from a couples dinner in a restaurant in which the two men reveal a “new chapter” in their lives: they have been in love for 20 years and now want to have a same sex marriage.
A furious Grace (Jane Fonda), who accuses Robert (Martin Sheen) of having lied to her, isn’t about to let him get off and causes a scene with flying bread rolls. Frankie (Lily Tomlin) is also reeling at Sol’s (Sam Waterston) news, but her pain is much deeper. Unlike the respectable Grace, used to keeping up appearances, she actually loves her husband.
Despite their unity in broken wedlock, these two septuagenarians share little in common. Grace is well-groomed, affluent, and had a profile career. She’s something of an Oprah wife. But she fumes over the news, telling Robert it would have been easier if he had died. Ouch.
Frankie however is a free spirit, who meditates and burns candles. Even after the shattering news, she can’t sleep in her bed without her soulmate beside her.
Both families also have adult children, played by Brooklyn Decker, Ethan Embry, June Diane Raphael and Baron Vaughn (the latter is African American) who try to comfort their mothers while coming to term with their fathers’ revelations.
Watch for some great gags involving a chair with Ryan Gosling’s face on the seat, and Frankie launching into a tirade against a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Ice-Cream in a supermarket. “What were Ben & Jerry really up to?” she shouts. And did I mention more than a few four letter clangers, that were laugh out loud?
But it’s when Grace and Frankie -individually- take refuge in a holiday house they share that the sparks and the chemistry begin to fly. Neither wants the other there, causing Frankie to take refuge on the beach. But soon the pair bond over their loss. This is when Grace and Frankie really comes to life, as these two doyens of the screen sparkle in anger, self-irreverence and refusing to act their age.
Meanwhile Robert and Sol are finding a new-found freedom after years of a secret affair. As much as I enjoy Sheen and Waterston, I’m not quite convinced of them as gay men as yet, even with an on-screen smooch.
Grace and Frankie is charismatic and angry, allowing its star cast to shine, and bringing with it contemporary issues. Fonda and Tomlin are given a new lease of life as much as their titular roles (was Bette Midler busy on casting day?). How lucky we are.
Grace and Frankie premieres on Netflix Friday May 8.