I’ve held off reviewing this Netflix series until Season 3 in part because I wanted to wait and see if it followed Amazon’s TransParent down the garden path of taking itself just a little too seriously. That show’s first season was groundbreaking and important (which is not to say ‘perfect’). I couldn’t make it very far into Season Two. But I digress. This show has avoided that fate.
Grace and Frankie is about “two unlikely friends who are brought together after their husbands announce they are in love and plan to get married,” as Wikipedia puts it. To be clear, G&F is yet another television show about well-off white folks living on the Left Coast. Grace is a a retired cosmetics mogul. There are multiple successful lawyers in the two principle families living in and around San Diego California. The ‘unsuccesful’ ones are a ‘flakey hippy-dippy artiste’ and the addict son.
TV and movies have long presented a glimpse into the (real or imagined) life of the well-to-do. Sometimes as escapism; lives filled with glitz and glamour. So long as those aren’t the only lives (lifestyles) offered as ‘worthy’ or ‘interesting’ – because well-off white folks are just one of many permutations that exist.
The most common complaint I hear/read about the show is about the alleged lack of chemistry/excitement between Robert and Sol. Perceptions of ‘chemistry’ between actors are subjective so I won’t say someone is wrong not to see it. However, I wonder if it’s more that those two characters are not as effervescent as their two ex-wives or as enjoyably ‘dysfunctional’ as the various offspring. The show is called Grace and Frankie. Those two roles were, according to the Wiki entry quoted above, cast first. Both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are powerhouse actresses who clearly are having the time of their lives in these roles. A well-trained supporting actor knows their role is to support the leads, and the story. Having all four main characters as energized as Grace and Frankie would be farcical at best. Possibly a fun movie but not a series of any length.
Perhaps also, some viewers are thinking of the four main characters in Will & Grace. That was a rare case of the two supporting roles outshining the title characters without destroying the show. In that show Will and Grace were friends rather than lovers, each with their own career and love lives.
Back to Sol and Robert- and these two characters’ back stories. Partners for decades in a law practice, and secret lovers for over a decade, practicing discretion when not outright deception. The four main characters are all in their 70s. Even before meeting Robert’s arch-Catholic mother this season, I can easily imagine that the freedom Coming Out so often brings did not mean immediate dismissal of a life-time of lessons, perceptions, inhibitions. My experience (direct and indirect) of human relationships is that very few of any import ever end with ‘no fuss, no muss’. Betrayal, genuine love, regret- I actually see great nuance and restraint in how each of the two male leads have their characters process all those. And I find both portrayals totally believable. Sol also is whiny; it’s not pretty but it is real.
As a queer man fast approaching 60, I can totally imagine finding each of the main characters if I were to go looking. That’s representation- imperfect as it may be.