Previously on Grace and Frankie
The world of Grace and Frankie is a delightful place to spend time. There’s this irresistible wave of joy and calm that washes over you, each and every time the show’s theme song kicks off. It may not always be perfectly plotted, some of its jokes could be cut, and certain characters are far less captivating than others, but none of those issues ever detract from the show’s undeniably enjoyable overall atmosphere. It’s become one of those shows you can watch almost any episode of when you need cheering up, when you need the comfort of familiar faces and settings. With Grace and Frankie you pretty much always know what you’re going to get and, in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
While reviewing this season’s premiere, I speculated about how we might be in for 12 episodes of recycled plot points and character arcs. Thankfully, I was utterly wrong. “The Lodger” remains a shaky start to the season – and, c’mon, Kudrow was just a bit of stunt casting gone wrong – but everything that followed was solid Grace and Frankie greatness. Our leading ladies were still navigating through issues of aging and death, identity and autonomy, but in different ways, driven by different motivations than we’ve seen before. It was a terrific example of how a show can easily stay true to its themes and tone, without ever needing to tread the exact same ground over and over again. It’s precisely why I say you always know what you’re getting into with the show – the core values of heart and humor are consistently present – and why that shouldn’t be seen as a weakness – the exploration of these values always takes a fresh and interesting path.
It certainly helps that the issues Grace and Frankie confronts are both real and meaningful, and, perhaps more importantly, universally relatable. Let’s face it, we’re all aging, and at some point we all have to tackle many of the same problems Grace and Frankie have faced. One of those problems, which the show briefly touches on throughout the season and leaves a good deal of setup to really explore in the next, is a truly tough one. It requires a delicate but direct approach. It’s yet another subject Grace and Frankie shows no fear in approaching, despite the fact it could change the direction of the show itself.
What if Grace and Frankie’s escapades aren’t funny anymore, because they’re starting to become both dangerous and scary for the ones who love them?
It’s not an easy question to propose, especially because part of Grace and Frankie’s charm stems from these very escapades. (And I’d need an entirely separate review to explore why Robert and Sol are never treated even remotely the same as Grace and Frankie in this regard. Or maybe it would just say, sexism?) Grace’s pride and Frankie’s whimsy are qualities to admire, but the show has never glossed over the realities of aging before so why should it start now? It’s anyone’s guess what direction the show takes with this in mind, but that conversation is probably best saved for next season. For now, let’s discuss the highlights from this one.
Grace and Frankie
It probably goes without saying that Grace and Frankie are the highlight of their own show, but I’m going to say it anyways. A large part of the reason it’s so appealing to spend time in this world, is because of the work Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin bring to the project each and every season. The writers have done a fantastic job of evolving their characters’ bond over time, but Fonda and Tomlin are the ones who make it tangible. What I loved most about their bond this season was the subtle yet evident ways in which it was expressed. While other characters tend to point out how lucky they are to have such a strong friendship, Grace and Frankie typically show each other their gratitude without vocalizing it directly. “Show don’t tell” isn’t always the best advice, but it certainly works well here.
Take, for example, one of the first night’s Frankie is back living at the beach house, Grace gives her this beaming look before heading to bed that practically squeals, “I’m so happy to have you back!” No dialogue was necessary however, because of how potent that one look was. Or, when Grace has just had her knee surgery, Frankie motivates her to get the proper exercise for recovery by hiding airplane sized vodka bottles all over the house. It’s bizarre yet totally beautiful. Grace doesn’t wind up taking the bait, but later on when Frankie arrives home heartbroken after her breakup, all it takes is one glance at her face for Grace to walk over and embrace her. The gesture that tops them all though, is when both women move to a retirement community, believing the other one had to but couldn’t do it alone. The truth eventually comes out, but only after they’ve spent weeks sacrificing their own happiness for the benefit of the other.
Grace Hanson has a lot of pride; a trait Jane Fonda utilizes well by infusing the character with such a witty bite. When she’s called upon to show us Grace’s vulnerable side though, Fonda typically delivers some of the best work seen throughout the series. There are a handful of small moments each season when this softer side of Grace emerges. Most often, and fittingly so, they have something to do with whether or not she’s still physically capable of certain activities. The moment that truly standouts from season four had more to do with her physical appearance.
Grace’s relationship with her younger boyfriend, Nick, was a constant performance for her. She wouldn’t allow herself to be fragile or exposed, choosing to avoid the truth about her knee pain and refusing to see him when she had no makeup on. Eventually this performance took its toll, and despite Nick’s ongoing reassurance that he was very happy with her, she was simply incapable of believing him. In an effort to prove he wouldn’t really want her, not once he truly saw her, Grace makes herself vulnerable. She rips off her fake eyelashes, removes her hair extensions, rubs off her makeup, reveals her new cane, and dares Nick to stick around. He does, of course.
It’s sad to see Grace think so little of herself – have you looked in a mirror lately, Fonda? But it’s also incredibly relatable, and it’s the kind of scene that really sticks with you. This side of Grace doesn’t come out too often – I can probably count the truly significant instances on one hand – but when it does, it’s powerful.
Overall Character Balance
Something the premiere got right was the amount of time spent with Robert, Sol, and the kids, and the rest of the season followed suit. The amount of value each of their storylines brought to the show is highly debatable, though. Robert and Sol seem to be an area where the show is happy to spin its wheels. Surprise, surprise, this season saw them fighting, again. It’s extremely difficult to muster up a single fuck about their marital problems, when you consider the lengths they went to for this relationship and the amount of damage they did in the process. I mean, I get it, couples are going to have issues, and I appreciate how layered Robert and Sol’s marriage is, but I feel like the last time we saw them happy was in season one. Perhaps a ménage à trois is exactly what they need.
Coyote and Mallory were mostly in the background, which is perfectly fine. Despite he and Alison having a baby, Bud wasn’t really on the radar, either. Brianna’s arc was the best of the bunch, though a lot of that may have had something to do with Barry. It was high time someone called Brianna out on some of her shit, and Barry did so in all the right ways. He also made for a great audience surrogate when pointing out the endless similarities between Grace and Brianna. I actually find myself looking forward to seeing how Brianna and Barry evolve in future seasons.
Not her literal death, obviously; just the one that mattered in the eyes of every federal institution. At first this seemed like it would turn out to be a side plot, just another one of those quirky scenarios Frankie gets herself into. While it did provide several laughs, it also set the stage for a few noteworthy storylines. Now, this surely wasn’t Frankie’s first existential crisis, but it was the first one that pushed her to make amends with her sister. The pacing of this reconciliation was a bit rushed, but the emotion of it all still managed to land quite well. It was one of those moments in Grace and Frankie that forces you to question your own grudges and wonder which ones are really worth it.
Frankie’s “death” was also the catalyst for her and Sol spending time together. It’s not too uncommon for a divorced couple to remain in each other’s lives, but it’s pretty rare for it to even resemble what Frankie and Sol have. Their continued bond just feels right, and it’s something the show clearly recognizes. I’m not suggesting this becomes the Sol and Frankie show, but I’m here for it whenever they want to attend a protest or just talk about how Grace and Robert are a couple of squares.
What a bittersweet conclusion. Grace and Frankie’s liberating escape from the retirement community was so exciting. Having the women return to their rightful place on the beach was heartwarming – and a nice bookend to set things right from the premiere. But seeing that “sold” portion of the “for sale” sign was a real bummer. It’s hard to imagine Grace and Frankie without the beach house. Not only has it been an integral setting for the show, it was, as Grace said, the place where she and Frankie put their lives back together. The beach house is where these women formed and fortified their friendship, it’s where they both started and succeeded with a new business.
Of course, it’s also where plenty of bad things have happened, like Bud and Alison’s Scavengender Hunt, which Frankie deemed the third worst gender reveal party ever. And, more seriously, the house was in pretty grim condition after the tub fell through the ceiling and the contractor hired to fix it stole all of their copper piping. So, maybe after 4 seasons, it’s okay to switch things up? There’s no denying that losing the beach house is going to be rough, but a show that’s willing to take risks (even if they don’t always pay off) is far better than one which never even tries. All that truly matters anyway is keeping Grace and Frankie together. As long as it’s those two against the world, I’ll be happy to come back for every misadventure.
Grace and Frankie Season 4 Review Score
Grace and Frankie - Season 4
Grace and Frankie | Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Ernie Hudson, Lisa Kudrow, Sam Waterson, Martin Sheen