Some shows educate. Other shows hold truth to power. While the world is full of “must watch peak TV,” sometimes all anyone wants is a bit of comfort food. For five seasons, “Grace and Frankie” has been Netflix’s best helping of comfort food. Who didn’t want to see Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in an “Odd Couple” situation, sharing a glorious beach house? Season six recycles some storylines, treads over familiar territory and continues to be a wonderfully diverting piece of TV comfort food.
Even in fiction, people grow up and people move out. This time, it’s Jane Fonda’s Grace (willingly) making the move. After marrying shady, yet charming, businessman Nick (Peter Gallagher) in a decidedly un-Grace-ful Vegas ceremony, she packs up her things and moves to his luxury penthouse. The honeymoon phase wears off quickly though. While Grace loves Nick, she finds it harder to love the close business relationship he has with his ex-wife and current assistant, Miriam (a delightful Mary Steenburgen). Fonda has great chemistry with both Gallagher and Steenburgen. All their scenes together have a flair and rhythm reminiscent of old-fashioned sitcoms.
Just because Grace is married and out of the beach house doesn’t mean Fonda and Tomlin don’t share scenes together. The show returns to an old, yet favorite, storyline to bring our wonderful odd couple together for season six. Upon moving to Nick’s stylish, yet impractical, penthouse, Grace finds she’s unable to get herself up off the couch or even the toilet seat. After calling Frankie for help, the duo decides to start yet another business. Their product: a motorized toilet seat that can raise itself to help older people get up without hurting themselves.
This recalls the season three storyline when Grace and Frankie decide to sell vibrators designed specifically for older women. As the age old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are precious few shows starring women over 40, much less women over 80. It’s great to see these characters in a business setting, actively designing products that help alleviate some of the pains of getting older. This new invention also makes Grace actively confront the stigma she holds about getting old. It’s scary to not be able to do the simple things that were once easy. “Grace and Frankie” manages to find the comedy, as well as the heart, in getting older.
The supporting cast continues to struggle to compete with the seismic forces of Fonda and Tomlin. June Diane Raphael steals scenes as Grace’s sardonic daughter, Brianna. This season gives her a chance to soften her rough character as her boyfriend Barry (Peter Cambor) offers up his sperm to lesbian friends trying to conceive. Raphael knows her way around a barbed one liner. Yet, this season she gets to contemplate settling down and what the future of her life and relationship might be. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters are either stuck in a place of repetitive arrested development (see Baron Vaughn and Ethan Embry as Frankie’s kids Bud and Coyote) or forgotten altogether (Brooklyn Decker is given nothing to do as Mallory, Grace’s other daughter).
Fully settled in as a couple, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston get slightly better material to work with as Robert and Sol. As they plan a retirement trip/honeymoon, they face certain health problems that could limit what they can do. The show works best when it contends with the growing pains (literally) of getting older. Our favorite characters may be vibrant, active and dynamic, but they are also slowing down. There’s a gap between what they want to do and what they are able to do. As a source of conflict, this is where the show shines.