Getting older isn’t as fun as it looks. While “Grace and Frankie” has been a breezy Netflix sitcom for three years, season four delves a bit deeper. The show began as an “Odd-Couple” type of two women who never liked each other bound together in a beach house after their husbands come out to them and move in with each other. Our titular characters find themselves in many a fun shenanigan still. However, it’s not without its consequences. While our leads have never looked more radiant, the show chronicles how aging affects them. As the entire extended Hanson and Bergstein clan goes through major life events, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) must contend with the major life events that are ahead for them.
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have got their chemistry down to a science. The show no longer needs to rest on tired odd couple schtick. Instead, we have two close friends whose life views differ. At the end of the day, they realize they can only survive when together. Like the titular characters, Fonda and Tomlin are able to read each other’s moves a wordless way. Fonda gets to do more physical work, as her legs give out throughout the season. She allows Grace to be funny while fragile. Tomlin, on the other hand, leans into her character’s scattered tendencies, but even thrives at being a straight man (of sorts) to Fonda’s ailment antics.
On the more dramatic side, both women confront their own mortality. This only accentuates how strong the performances of these two women are. They lean on each other during the hard times and support each other during the antics. One strong episode focuses on Grace breaking free one of her friends, Arlene (Marsha Mason), from a retirement home. However, over the course of one afternoon, Grace realizes Arlene was not dumped there by her callous son. Instead, she reconciles how her friend has aged and does need assisted living. Frankie, meanwhile, makes amends with a person from her past that she realizes she desires a relationship with.
Season four finds more and more guest stars dropping by Grace and Frankie’s beach house. Lisa Kudrow steals every scene in her early stint as Grace’s new roommate after Frankie returns from Santa Fe. As a rhinestone loving nail artist, Kudrow channels her inner Jennifer Coolidge from “Legally Blonde.” The other notable long-term entry is Peter Gallagher as Grace’s younger new lover. A former business rival, Gallagher’s Nick turns out to be the foil that Grace needs. Even more surprising is a stint by Talia Shire. The show does wonders when it builds out the lives of these two women.
As their gay husbands who now live together, Michael Sheen and Sam Waterston have found a better groove as Robert and Sol. Maybe that’s because Robert and Sol find themselves in marital distress. Sol finds himself neglected by Robert, whose attention is paid mostly to an upcoming production of “The Music Man.” Their couples therapist suggests they try an open relationship. The scenes involving Roy (Mark Deklin), a young folk enthusiast, provide this subplot the much-needed conflict and fun it needed.
The greatest weakness of the show continues to be the children. June Diane Raphael nails every punchline she’s given as Grace’s daughter Brianna. Likewise, Baron Vaughn improves quite a bit as Frankie’s son, Bud. We see him both before and after the birth of his daughter, Faith. While this gives Frankie’s story more heft as she wants to be a good Grandma, the rest of Bud’s storyline fails. Lindsey Kraft’s performance as Allison is an over-the-top blight on the show. Embodying every phobia known to man, the show gives no reason why Bud would fall for her. Brooklyn Decker gets slightly more to do than be “nice” as Grace’s other daughter Mallory. However, it’s not enough to warrant her presence on the show if she won’t be given a story. Ethan Embry’s Coyote (Frankie’s other son), however, gets a storyline that does nothing but sucks up the air.
“Grace and Frankie” is a prime example of a show that took time to figure out what it really was. It’s beginnings as a glorified NBC sitcom filled with groaners are long behind it. The show wants to tackle subjects that are relevant to an elderly community. The vibrator jokes are centered around older women’s sexuality and pleasure being an afterthought. The subplots about death and aging illustrate real and pressing fears. The zaniness of the family is the (extra strong) frosting on a really delicious cake. Season four ends with new challenges for our fateful duo, Grace, and Frankie. However, if the show teaches us anything, it’s to never underestimate the pairing of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.