Grace and Frankie

Hooray!  A sitcoms that doesn’t try too hard for laughs, nor does it resort to canned laughter – just actors that can act.

This is not to say that Grace and Frankie is the best thing since Fawlty Towers, but it is gently likeable and does allow for the occasional light giggle withough thrusting its sweaty balls in our faces, so to speak.  The scenario is possibly not unique, but it is certainly the 21st Century stuff of sitcomland: the wives of the two respective partners in a law firm discover their husbands want to divorce them – in order to marry one another.

Yes indeed! Now marriage to any partner of any gender is now permitted in most of the civilised world, time to celebrate that fact in the home of prejudice (remember Love Thy Neighbour?) without dirty sniggers or camp stereotypes (for the most part.)  Let me repeat that – the happy couple (Sam Waterston as Sol and Martin Sheen as Robert) are 70-something, gay, proud and not the subject of the sort of homophobic jokes you would have found in the very recent past, nor yet overt political correctness either.

OK, so the assorted kids on one side are wealthy white females (one a baby machine – Brooklyn Decker) and on the other with two adopted males: one black (Baron Vaughn) and one a recovering junkie (Ethan Embry) – maybe just a hint of PC then?  Ah, but all of the above are marginally peripheral characters used primarily for subplots and family occasions, when they’re not plotting about their parents.

The central twosome are the not-so-gay divorcees acclimatising to life in the same expensive beach house and dealing with respective families. That they are played by two heavyweight actors in the form of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda says a great deal about the quality of scripting, but then as joint executive producers both have staked their considerable reputations on this project.

Oh, and it goes without saying that Grace and Frankie are chalk and cheese personalities, naturally since there would not be a sympathetic family/adult drama but for some degree of friction in the fiction – the wisecracking female Odd Couple on heat.  Frankie (Tomlin) is a 70-ish hippy art teacher, while the more neurotic 70-something Grace (Fonda) used to run her own cosmetics company, from which she has now retired and handed over the reins to eldest daughter Brianna (June Diane Raphael.)

They are not friends so much as polite acquaintances, but over time become rather closer and earn a grudging mutual respect.  Inevitably, they have in common not only the marriage of their respective spouses, but getting older and behaving much like teenagers in the process.

Indeed, much of the dialogue relates to the concerns of ageing, dating while ageing, liberal discussions on sex while ageing (and a prominent role for natural yam-based vaginal lubes), health issues, driving while elderly and other things that the young would rather not think about (apart from interaction with children and grandchildren) – but which in these mature times it is now permissible to talk on TV, where once studio execs, advertisers and censors would have a fit of dyspepsia at the very thought.

But then, as proven by the Golden Girls, there is a flourishing market for the young at heart, and we’re not all po-faced and easily shocked either.  The world has decidedly moved on, and older people living longer are now a significant audience segment, there to be entertained and understood in equal measure.  Pushing boundaries has always been the objective of broadcasters, though the liberalisation of our culture means they must be infinitely more creative to create even the mildest shockwaves.

None of this is what sets G&F apart though.  It’s better than average comedy because it has better than average scripts and better than average performers.  For the former we can thank experienced comedy creators and writers Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris for fighting against the trend of having a small army of writers and endless editorial meetings, though I suspect Fonda and Tomlin had a good deal of input too.  By contrast, there are no fewer than 7 “executive producers,” including stars and writers, in-keeping with the current vogue of giving the creatives more control.

Anyway, worth a watch and a few laughs, nothing dramatic but better than soaps.  Have a fun Christmas!

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