Steal This: Grace and Frankie

A different kind of Four Musketeers, no?

A different kind of Four Musketeers, no?

Show: Grace and Frankie

Tenure: One season thus far, available on Netflix now.

Prime property:

  • I’m seeing a theme. It’s called MATURE ACTORS AND CHARACTERS. Jane Fonda is 77 (but looks 20 years younger). Lily Tomlin is 75. Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston are both 74. THESE FOUR ARE THE LEADS.
  • I would literally watch Tomlin and Fonda read the telephone book. They are amazing in the scenes they share together.
  • Despite the new-ish twist in its premise (the two men leaving their wives are leaving them for…each other), it’s a relatively traditional story about family, about friendship, and about the choices we make as we get older.
  • June Diane Raphael is an absolute treasure. She’s been in the supporting cast of many films and shows, but her Brianna is a star on G&F. She more than holds her own with the vets, and makes you root for Brianna, even when she’s being an awful, shallow bitch.

Potholes to avoid: 

  • The first season struggled in finding the right balance and tone, and some of the character elements were laid on a bit thick. The show instantly got better after it stopped reinforcing the broad sketches for the characters — Fonda is Uptight Lady, Tomlin is Crazy Hippie, etc. Knowing Sol and Robert as we do now, it seems so cruel that they would have played the initial breakup scene so broadly, and left Grace and Frankie so abruptly. Once all the characters stepped away from stereotype and began to breathe, the show found its tone.
  • Some of the drama with the children  was unnecessary, and the character of Mallory seems like an afterthought. Mallory is also part of the most dubious birth scene I’ve ever seen on a television show. (It literally looks like a baby falls out of Mallory as she’s standing up. C’mon, folks.)
  • Waterston and Sheen are playing their roles quite differently. I’m not sure if Sheen is being directed to do so, or if he’s using these elements consciously to play Robert, but he’s definitely playing a more prissy, garden-party, Fiesta-collecting, stereotypical gay man. Waterston, on the other hand, has created a wonderfully messy, human character in Sol, a gay man embracing his dream, but still connected to his best friend, the woman who stood by his side for so many years.

I mentioned Grace and Frankie here because I think in terms of content and format, it is very close to what a future soap, future reboot, etc. might look like. And aside from what I assume are sizable salaries for the four leads of this show, it’s probably similar in terms of scale and budget. These are not extravagant sets. Some public spaces are used for filming. It can be done, folks, and look good! Peapack lives!

Like some of the other shows mentioned this week, G&F isn’t much for bombs, guns, doppelgangers or the abuse and degradation of people for eyeballs and Nielsen points. Since it’s on a different platform, it has the freedom to follow a different path.

It finds a lot of drama and tension in navigating the everyday, especially after life has changed so drastically for this family. It acknowledges love but also neglect and mistakes. It says that the people you love can be the ones that hurt you the most. And, in moments that resonate personally for me, it asks what happens when you’re no longer in the midst of the action, what lies ahead when much of your life is in the rearview mirror.

And that’s the question I’ve been asking a lot since my own reboot of this blog. What kinds of stories do we want to tell? What are the themes we can explore? There’s great power in pruning the tree and going back to basics, in curating what works and pushing what doesn’t into storage. There is much to explore, and much is being missed. We need more than bombs and OMG moments, more than hair tosses, slaps and wig snatches. I hope daytime shows and web soaps will steal from some of these templates. If not, we’ll keep finding them on other platforms…..

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