Grace and Frankie
“Grace and Frankie portrays the multifaceted lives of older women as well as older gay men.”
Title: Grace and Frankie
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-3
Creators: Marta Kauffman 👩🏼🇺🇸 and Howard J. Morris 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Marta Kauffman 👩🏼🇺🇸 (52 eps), Howard J. Morris 👨🏼🇺🇸 (52 eps), David Budin 👨🏼🇺🇸 (27 eps), Brendan McCarthy 👨🏼🇺🇸 (27 eps), Julieanne Smolinski 👩🏼🇺🇸 (22 eps), Brooke Wied 👩🏼🇺🇸 (15 eps), Laura Jacmin 👩🏼🇺🇸 (13 eps), and various (7 ♂ and 6 ♀)
Reviewed by Tinker 👩🏻🇺🇸
Though Grace and Frankie may have had a rocky start in gaining the favor of critics, this comedy-drama from Netflix has steadily risen in quality over the seasons and continues to show signs of progress. Following two women in their seventies, Grace and Frankie (played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin), the show explores their friendship, aspirations, love lives, and familial interactions.
The story begins when the duo is forced into an unlikely friendship after their husbands—who are divorce lawyers, ironically—leave them to profess their secret love for one another. Both women refuse to forfeit the beach house the two families had jointly purchased, and so, they decide to live together.
While the writing can veer overly sentimental, the emotions are genuine, resulting in some heartfelt moments that touch upon difficult topics such as aging, divorce, grief, and religion, to name a few. As Grace and Frankie prepares for its fourth season, viewers can look forward to more insights on the perspectives of older women.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Grace and Frankie depicts women of varying ambitions and personalities. The titular characters are dynamic, sympathetic, and flawed—their interactions believable and enjoyable to watch. Grace’s daughters, the stay-at-home mom, Mallory (played by Brooklyn Decker), and the CEO, Brianna (played by June Diane Raphael), are also delightful within their respective plotlines. The different ways they navigate their own lives offers yet more facets to the female experience.
Moreover, periphery women are evident throughout the show. Be it through scenes in clothing stores, bars, or office meetings, women dominate this program’s runtime.
Perhaps this level of gender representation is aided by representation behind the camera. According to Deadline, production designer Devorah Herbert commends the high proportion of women on the Grace and Frankie set, saying:
“It’s really been amazing. In other design jobs, I’m used to being the only woman in the scout van, and having women in leadership roles is really exciting. I also feel very included on the creative team–more so than usual. I think that does have a lot to do with the fact that more than 50% of the department heads on this show—and the writers and the producers—are women.”
Grace and Frankie has a severe lack of melanin in its main cast, one that cannot be compensated by the only significant character of color, Frankie’s adopted son Nwabudike (played by Baron Vaughn, who is black). In a support role we find Ernie Hudson—who is also black—occasionally surfacing in the role of Jacob, Frankie’s boyfriend.
The lack of people of color in main roles is concerning considering the diversity of the show’s probable setting in San Diego County, which was 46.0% white, 33.5% Hispanic (including white Hispanics), 12.2% Asian, 5.5% black, 4.4% mixed race, and 1.9% other in 2016. Still, Nwabudike’s character and plotline is treated with respect, and his interracial relationship with Allison (Lindsey Kraft) is one of the most memorable aspects of the latest season.
The Jewish identity of Frankie and her ex-husband Sol Bergstein (Sam Waterston) must be considered as well, as it is crucial to the understanding of their characters. Yet, as publications such as Ma’yan, XOJane, and Collider have analyzed, this identity is intertwined with whiteness and classism emphasized by their wealthy lifestyles.
In many ways, the depiction of male homosexuality is well explored in Grace and Frankie. Sol and Robert, Grace’s ex-husband played by Martin Sheen, tackle fidelity issues, religious conflicts, and the unique experience of falling in love towards the end of one’s life. However, there is the lingering issue of how binary their relationship is, which perpetuates a longtime erasure of bisexual characters. Leena van Deventer writes for Bitch Flicks:
“Surely, there was a possibility [Sol and Robert] were in fact bisexual? Was it because gay is easier for audiences to understand than “those confusing bisexuals”?...With a lack of bisexual characters in film and television and damaging tropes about bi people in media, it would have been great to see two bi men in Grace and Frankie, especially two older men. Because I do love the show so much, perhaps I would like to imagine the decision to make Sol and Robert gay is because of the history of the (undeserving, cruel) association between bisexual people and infidelity, given that the men in this show engaged in a 20-year affair with each other.”
Jillian Richardson of Bitch Media adds:
“Throughout two seasons and 26 episodes, bisexuality is not referred to once...Even when (spoiler) Sol and Frankie sleep together again in an emotional moment, it’s assumed that Sol only did so because he felt bittersweet about his family coming apart, not because he felt a deep attraction to Frankie.”
Bonus for Age: +1.00
Grace and Frankie portrays the multifaceted lives of older women as well as older gay men. As Becky Kukla states for Bitch Flicks, “There is more to Robert and Sol than just their relationship, and there is far more to Grace and Frankie than just being jilted, middle-class ex-wives.”
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.19/5
Grace and Frankie is a unique dramedy which highlights the often ignored lives of older women. Though the series is not perfect—particularly in its dismissal of bisexuality and its shallow racial representation—its decision to explore weighty topics like religion, sexuality, and mortality through a comedic lens is highly welcome.
Hopefully, future seasons will probe even deeper as this bold, female duo continues to headline the show with unapologetic vivacity.