Previously on Grace and Frankie
Season four of Grace and Frankie begins in a familiar place: the beach. It’s not as comical as last season’s opening, which saw Frankie dancing in the sand with animated vibrators. It’s not as heartwarming either, like the time Grace and Frankie agreed to be there for each other in the same way they were there for their friend Babe. In fact, the only words I’d use to describe this opening, despite the familiar setting, are: intentionally provoking. Your mileage may vary on whether you think this provocation is good or bad, but the intentionality can’t be disputed. Grace and Frankie wants us to feel, at least a little, adverse to its newest character.
First of all, it’s impossible not to assume what we’re seeing is Grace and Frankie walking along the beach together when – fake out! – it’s revealed to be Grace and some random woman. We’ll later learn this woman is Sheree, (Lisa Kudrow) Grace’s new roommate and someone who, at first glance, seems a lot like Frankie. Secondly, this beach is a place where our leading ladies have shared a number of important moments, some of them life-changing. Finally, Grace even mentions the fact she’s having déjà vu, because of how similar this situation feels to something she’s done before with her BFF. For us to meet Sheree here feels very deliberate. It’s not hard to side with Frankie when she visits from Santa Fe to find her turf has been thoroughly stepped on, and feeling like she’s been replaced.
However, it’s also entirely unfair to have expected Grace was living some kind of static existence, just going through the motions while Frankie was off living her dreams. That scenario sounds boring in terms of plot, and would certainly have been a step in the wrong direction for her character. So, Sheree’s presence doesn’t feel entirely unwarranted here, and the show’s attempt at evolving and shaking things up after 3 seasons is appreciated. It also makes complete sense for Grace to have grown close to someone similar to Frankie, even if she is, at best, just the No Name version. Unfortunately, at least thus far, Sheree works better in theory than in practice. Her introduction creates a whole host of problems. The least damaging, but possibly most annoying, being that Kudrow is essentially (there are minor differences) reprising her role as Phoebe from Friends. And what I want to know is, who the hell asked for that? Grace and Frankie deserves better than a recycled character, especially one who’s seemingly facilitating the resurgence of character arcs and plot points previously explored.
Once again, it seems as though a wedge has been driven between Grace and Frankie, which will undoubtedly lead to a multi-episode-arc about how they eventually come back together, stronger than ever before. If Grace and Frankie had been a simplistic, one-dimensional sitcom in the past this might be fine. It’s always been so much more than 30 minutes of cheap laughs though, and it would be a real shame for it to derail now. At this point, the writers should have realized Grace and Frankie’s friendship doesn’t need anymore of these trials. It’s totally reasonable for their relationship to have the occasional hiccup, so let’s hope that’s all this turns out to be. Otherwise, and it’s not easy to say this, season four is about to head down a repetitive, lazy, and unexciting path.
Another issue to consider is that Grace and Frankie just doesn’t need another character in the mix. The show’s weakness has always been in finding ways to keep the ex-husbands and the adult children appealing and worthy of screen time. Though this could be a result of simply needing more room to introduce Sheree, the amount of time we spent with Robert, Sol, and the kids was actually perfect during this premiere. Unlike so often in the past, their scenes weren’t pointless or lengthy, we were caught up with each of them in record time, and some of their dialogue was even funny! It seems Brianna’s also had some decent character development in terms of her relationship, and it didn’t have to come at the expense of changing who she is fundamentally. Out of the other 6 “main” characters, hers is the storyline with the most promise.
As for the central plot, a small ray of hope lies in the possibility that Sheree is not who she seems. By the end of the episode Brianna and Frankie have discovered something about Grace’s new roomie, which the audience isn’t privy to, but which prompted a “holy shit” reaction from them both. It’s unclear whether it’s good or bad news, though the information did come from depositions given by family members Sheree lied about having. On the one hand, Sheree being a shitty friend (because she’s been dishonest with Grace) is a bit of an easy out for the writers. On the other, it would (hopefully) mean her personality is a front and she’s not just Phoebe 2.0. Even if Sheree had good reason for lying, it still alters the dynamic she had with Grace. The only way this can go south is if it goes into false conflict territory, with Grace refusing to believe Frankie about whatever she found or with Frankie keeping the information from her entirely.
Of course, all is not lost yet, because the core strengths of Grace and Frankie do remain present in the episode. It has humor: the highlight of which was Frankie’s imitation of the way Sheree laughs. It has heart: Grace feeling left behind and Frankie feeling erased are genuine and interesting emotions to explore, and they’re really the only reason any of this Sheree business manages to work at all. And though it was only truly seen during their brief phone call, Grace and Frankie’s unique bond is still very much alive. Grace’s understanding that Frankie will likely miss her flight, and also the one after that, and the way Frankie responds by saying, “I feel so known” is the perfect expression of this. I’m all for the show repeatedly displaying how wonderful Grace and Frankie’s friendship is, and it would be great if they could do so without having to constantly tear them apart first. Here’s hoping my fear the show is about to travel down that worn out road is entirely wrong.
Grace and Frankie S4E1 Review Score
Grace and Frankie – S4E1 – “The Lodger” | Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Ernie Hudson, Lisa Kudrow, Sam Waterson, Martin Sheen