There is something oddly poetic about a show that deals with ageing, second chances and female friendships being the longest running original series on Netflix. Grace and Frankie is a show that no one really had great expectations from, including the makers. But with Season 6, all 13 episodes now streaming on Netflix, creators Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris have proven that when it comes to great stories, age is truly no limit.
It’s especially important given how inherently ageist the entertainment industry is around the world, especially with women. For those who have (sadly) never watched the show, Grace and Frankie is the story of Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) who find themselves forced to live together after their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston) come out as gay and decide to get married. It doesn’t help that Grace and Frankie hate each other initially but after living together for five years, the two have formed an unbreakable bond.
The end of Season 5 saw a huge life-changing moment when Grace gets married to her boyfriend Nick (Peter Gallagher). While change and dealing with it is one of the bedrock themes of the show, how will Grace moving away impact their lives and the bond of companionship they have built over the years?
Frankie and Grace are going through an adjustment period of living apart, but when Grace needs Frankie’s help to rise up from a toilet seat, it sends the two feisty women down an entrepreneurial path again. They build a hydraulic toilet seat called Rise Up that helps the elderly ‘rise up’ without risking a fall or death in the bathroom. It’s a brilliant idea that could have been the source of a lot of humour and adventure for the ladies as they struggle with manufacturing and marketing a toilet. But sadly, the potential gets partly flushed away when the makers dump (pun intended) a lot of subplots into the pot.
In the process of trying to keep things lively and quick paced, several parts of this season feel very rushed, reducing storylines with potential to just clever ideas. A cancer diagnosis is given minimum seriousness, with even the patient’s kids not showing too much interest in their parent. Frankie meets Jack (Michael McKean) and the two hit it off but again the storyline is left half-baked. There are kidney seekers, illegal marriages, graves being sold, delayed honeymoons, commitment issues, company takeovers and new romantic relationships all thrown into the mix, and sometimes it gets hard to keep track of exactly what is going on in whose life.
Apart from the leading quartet, the supporting cast which includes their adult children get the short end of the stick when it comes to the writing and screen time. It seems like the makers are running out of ideas for the younger cast members Bud (Baron Vaughn), Mallory (Brooklyn Decker), Coyote (Ethan Embry) and even Brianna (June Diane Raphael). While some might call this poetic justice since its usually the elderly who get pushed to the margins being one-note ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ characters, here it seems unfair to important cast members who have played a significant role in making the show what it is.
Bud meets a cousin from genetic matching online but the whole story is diluted to a couple of jokes. Coyote is ready to commit to a girlfriend, but we see little of their dynamic as a couple. Mallory is a mother of four kids, but we never once see her actually parent them or get a peek into her struggles as a single parent. Even Brianna is stuck in the I -am-commitment- phobic rut and there is nothing new we learn about her. I was actually a little annoyed to see that the makers do a whole 'taming of the shrew' arc with her character, forcing her to be more conventional and seek a long-term commitment.
On the upside, there are some terrific cameos and new supporting roles for senior actors. Mary Steenburgen as Nick’s ex-wife and business partner Miriam is a new entrant and it would have been lovely to see her dynamic with Grace explored further. Joan Margaret (Millicent Martin) has an expanded role, Orson Bean, Elliott Gould (better known as Ross and Monica’s dad from Friends), and even Ernie Hudson who played Jacob in earlier seasons, makes an appearance. The show remains grounded in the terrific chemistry between Grace and Frankie, and the squabbling but lovable Robert and Sol. There are some genuinely heartfelt moments between the senior four and their equally eccentric kids who have developed a fantastic on-screen dynamic over the years.
I particularly liked a possibly blasphemous scene between Robert and Frankie where they make a ‘confession’ minus an actual priest or church, and a scene from the finale where Frankie tells Grace that hers is the only number she has by heart. What really set Grace and Frankie apart as a show was its approach to a section of the population that gets marginalised as people who have finished living their lives and are just waiting for the slow crawl to death. Instead, its protagonists, two 80-year-old women, plan new business ventures and appear on the reality show 'Shark Tank’ to raise funds. Their ex-husbands commit to each other at 70 and discover what being a gay couple means at their age.
Grace and Frankie redefined what it meant to be old, to be old and gay and to make new beginnings when you are nearing then end. Just for that, it deserves applause. While it’s a maze of story ideas, watch Season 6 if you have been a fan of the series and because we all know there will never be another show quite like it.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.