I’ve been a fan of “Grace and Frankie” from the beginning. And it just keeps getting better.
A quick recap in case you plan to dive right into the third season of this Netflix web TV series: Grace and Frankie are two affluent housewives in their 70s who discover that their law-partner husbands have been lovers for the past 20 years. Despite the women’s clashing personalities—Frankie is a free spirit hippie and Grace is an uptight society matron—the two are forced to live together in the one house that’s left after the divorce, adapting to each other’s wildly different lifestyles while they deal with making new lives for themselves. They start out barely speaking, but gradually grow to appreciate each other and become fast friends.
What I’ve always loved most about the show is that it deals unsentimentally with the elephant in the room—aging. Although it approaches the theme a bit gingerly in the first two seasons, by Season 3, Grace and Frankie have hit their stride as indomitable, independent women. They’re a united front meeting old age head on.
This season, “Grace and Frankie” has developed a depth and daring that’s left me both laughing and cheering—even though I’m watching alone in my living room. (Netflix launches each entire season in one swoop; perfect for us binge-watchers.) If Seasons 1 and 2 were funny, Season 3 is even funnier, because so much of the humor now is built around the indignities of growing old, which is not a subject that we see treated with humor very often—except for the kind where old people are the butt of the jokes.
Busting Stereotypes, One Ergonomic Vibrator at a Time
The season starts with Grace and Frankie visiting a bank to get a 10-year loan for their new business: ergonomic vibrators for older women. Anyone with gray hair who has had to pitch their talents to a young person knows “the look”—the “I’m only half listening because I tuned out as soon as you walked through the door” look. It certainly doesn’t help when Grace and Frankie explain their product, the Menage a Moi, a vibrator with a swiveling head that won’t aggravate arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome and large-print instructions. Sure enough, the 30-year-old behind the desk doesn’t give them the loan they’re requesting because… he doesn’t think they’ll live that long. Ageism exposed? You bet.
The women’s continued attempts to get their vibrator business off the ground provides plenty of material for an ongoing string of sex-and-aging jokes, most of them at the expense of characters who can’t face the reality that, yes, older people do it too.
This season’s commentary about aging isn’t just hysterically funny, it’s subversive, too. In a takeoff on the noxious “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial, Frankie throws her back out, Grace tries to keep her from falling down, Grace’s back then goes out from the effort and they both wind up on the floor and can’t get up. Grace doesn’t want to call her daughter, because her daughter already thinks she’s too infirm to take care of herself, so they call their ex-husbands instead. When Frankie’s son finds out what’s happened, he insists on buying her an alert button, which Grace ends up smashing to smithereens with her stiletto when Frankie’s son tells her, with that perfect mix of worry and condescension, that she should stop wearing high heels because they’re not safe at her age.
This may sound a lot like a simple gags about getting old, but it goes deeper. As the Daily Dot noted in a review: “In a lesser show [the episode where Grace and Frankie fall] would be full of slapstick humor and puns that rhyme with ‘pitfalls.’ With Grace & Frankie, the writers carefully explore the psychological effects of aging.”
The show takes aim at some of the most insidious types of ageism that the media dishes out daily. Grace and Frankie consider hiring a PR firm to publicize their vibrator; the PR firm presents them with photoshopped images of themselves as the “faces” of their product—very young faces. Outraged, Frankie hits her panic button (one that Grace hasn’t destroyed yet) and they escape. Big fist pump for that episode (even though Fonda and Tomlin both look like they’ve had “work”—and Fonda admits it.) I’m sure I’m not the only one who is heartily sick of seeing ads for wrinkle creams featuring 25-year-old models.
“These are topics germane to what the actors and showrunner (Marta Kauffman) care about in real life,” Indiewire points out. “Fonda and Tomlin aren’t ready to sit down and shut up simply because Hollywood doesn’t care about women their age.” Grace and Frankie” offers both actresses the opportunity not just to explore aging and ageism on the small screen, but also to speak out at every occasion—including award ceremonies.
“Grace and Frankie” is that rare beast—a comedy about aging whose characters can laugh at themselves and the realities of aging without being self-denigrating. No spoilers here, but if you ever thought having a mini-stroke couldn’t possibly be an occasion for laughter, you have to watch Season 3. And if you ever wondered which is more important in later life, your girlfriends or a love interest, Grace and Frankie will convince you that female friendship is more important than any other relationship as you age. As Fonda said in a TED talk with Tomlin: “I don’t even know what I would do without my women friends… I exist because I have my women friends.”
The show has been renewed for Season 4. I can’t wait.
Where to Stream “Grace & Frankie”
- Stream Seasons 1–3 on Netflix: Free for Netflix members; membership free first month, then $7.99 and up per month.
- Stream Seasons 1 & 2 on Vudu: $1.99 per episode
- Stream Seasons 1 & 2 on Amazon: $2.99 per episode
Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who
writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction.
Friend her on Facebook.