Reviewed! Netflix Reunites Fonda and Tomlin for the Heartfelt ‘Grace and Frankie’
When last we left Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, they were standing in Tomlin’s garage, sharing a joint, plotting the demise of their misogynist boss in the 1980 film, “9 to 5.” Together again, 15 years later, the pair have reunited and retained their powerful onscreen chemistry in Netflix’s series “Grace and Frankie.”
The intuitive electricity between these two actors, shocked into an unexpected life transformation when their husbands announce their long-standing romantic relationship, is what keeps the sometimes tedious, predictable narrative afloat. While trying to be relevant in telling the story of the two older law partners (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) who come out of the closet after 20 years, “Grace and Frankie” suffers from some inconsistency in pacing and structure from episode to episode. There is far too much “Odd Couple” mimicry going on here, and while Tomlin and Fonda can pull off the opposites attract mombo, the pairing of Sheen and Waterston lacks the emotional spark to make their love affair
believable. It’s tough to think of Sheen as anything other than President Bartlet, and Waterston as the New York DA or head of the news org in HBO’s “The Newsroom.” On the other hand, Tomlin is award-worthy with her portrayal of an aging hippie desperately trying to maintain her equilibrium against a climate of personal disruption.
When “Grace and Frankie” works, it’s a powerful entry into Netflix’s schedule. Episode five, which involves Fonda reluctantly entering the world of online dating, followed by a memorable trip for froyo, runs deep with dynamic energy, poignant dialog, and a conclusion that accelerates one of the show’s key story arcs.
By the same token, nearly all the scenes where Waterston and Sheen are asked to make us believe they are more than pretending to be soul mates, are lifeless and void of compassion. What is intended to be a glowing warmth between two men who call each other “honey” and “sweetheart” comes off more creepy than engaging.
For Netflix, “Grace and Frankie” is yet another signal the streaming media company aims to deliver a programming roster that touches all the bases and pleases multiple audience segments. This newest entry will have great appeal to an older audience while having enough relatable touch-points to be welcomed by all viewers. While not as bold and groundbreaking as Amazon’s “Transparent,” “Grace and Frankie” deals with a hot-button issue, albeit without political agenda or shock value.
It’s worth noting the interesting cast mix here: Tomlin and Sheen performed together on “West Wing” as secretary and president while Fonda and Waterston played opposite each other on “The Newsroom.” When Netflix bills the show to be about a new sort of extended family, they aren’t kidding.