It’s during the fourth episode of Grace and Frankie when you realize this show could be so much more. Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and Grace (Jane Fonda) attend a funeral of a mutual friend. The problem: their husbands will be there. The bigger problem: their husbands just came out as gay and are in a relationship together. Frankie and Grace do not want to be seen by all their friends and family.
But that’s just the comedy. Toward the end of the episode, Frankie leaves the funeral, and gets into Sol’s (Sam Waterston) car. It’s just second nature to her. A habit. It takes her a beat, but she realizes the mistake she’s made. She’s not going home with Sol, not anymore. She looks at him, distraught and saddened, and quickly exits the car.
Grace and Frankie peppers its series with moments like these, revelations that are funny and honest and a bit scary—like the fact that no one can be mad at Sol and Robert (Martin Sheen) because they’re gay; if they had cheated with women for the past 20 years, wouldn’t everyone be furious?
But the keyword here is peppers. It’s a shame that all of that isn’t part of the entire blend.
That exact notion that the characters can’t be mad at their ex-husbands or their fathers has some real meat behind it. There’s a reason for that societally. Oftentimes, watching Grace and Frankie you might end up hoping that the show were actually titled Sol and Robert. In the 2015 media landscape with series like Transparent, theirs is the story that seems more powerful.
The series feels as though it believes that too. Intercut with whatever shenanigans are happening at Frankie and Grace’s house (like making out with an ex-convict), are substantive scenes at Sol and Robert’s. Sol and Robert miss their wives. Sol and Robert can’t agree on what kind of wedding they would like. Sol and Robert are having arguments about past lovers. Sol and Robert are trying to figure out what it means to be a gay couple and what it means to be a gay couple in your 70s.
That’s not to say that Frankie and Grace don’t pull their emotional weight. Scenes like the first one I described are plentiful. Will Grace ever love again? Will Frankie be able to let go of her best friend? And, ultimately, will Frankie and Grace be able to support each other through it all? These are stories often untold for women in their 70s, too. The show could have taken the less difficult route and focused on the wives entirely, but it does its best to service both of these underserved plots and characters on television the best way it can.
Hoping for that sort of plangency that we are used to with comedies these days (Girls, Transparent, Looking) in Grace and Frankie is asking for it to be a show that it’s not. And perhaps it doesn’t have to be. The creators and writers behind Grace and Frankie most likely thought they were making a funny show with wickedly funny premise.
And, you know what, they were right. At times, Grace and Frankie is gut-achingly hilarious. Telling these two underrepresented stories at once is a feat on its own. The laughs are a perk.