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Thursday
Mar302017

Grace and Frankie, Season 3: Return to Form 

By Spencer Coile

A good series is not born overnight. Oftentimes, the pilot episode is not indicative of the quality a show might have down the road. Even if it is incredible, the series still runs a risk of running off the rails in subsequent seasons (Desperate Housewives). Still, there is something especially rewarding about a series that, after two lackluster seasons, can come back swinging in its third. And after indulging in half of its third outing, it is safe to say that Grace and Frankie has carved out a very unique space for its viwers. 

Picking up shortly where season two left off, season three to Grace and Frankie finds its two leading characters developing their own sex toy business geared toward older women. Of course, this is all easier said than done. After all, they still are an odd couple. Meanwhile, their ex-husbands Sol and Robert, neogotiate issues of retirement, gay culture, and coming out at such an old age. And of course you cannot forget all of their children, grounding all of the "adult" happenings with a strange twinge of immaturity. 

But what makes the latest offering from Grace and Frankie better than its previous two seasons? 

You would think that a Netflix comedy featuring two acting legends sparring off after their husbands come out as gay to them would have hit the ground running with its series premiere, back in 2015. For some reason, though, something felt off. Could it be that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda were not given the best material to work with? Or could it be the comedy wasn't flying the way it could have? Were Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston shortchanged when it came to their secondary plot points? Clearly, Grace and Frankie was not the sum of all of its parts. 

What works in season three is the series' insistence that these significantly older characters have the right to storylines that discuss ageism, sexism, and homophobia without making their age a spectacle. Whereas the first two seasons treated the characters' ages as a big ol' joke, simply something to laugh about, season three turns that around and creates stories that puts their age at the forefront-- but in a way that allows for exploration, rather than exploitation. For instance, a central story features Robert and Sol coming to terms with coming out as gay men so late in life. Robert wishes to hide the fact that he was once married to a woman to all of his new gay friends, but upon Sol's insistence that it is not something he can hide, Robert then decides to come out to his mother. 

Seasons one and two might have treated this as merely something amusing. "Look everyone, a 76 year-old man is coming out to his strict and uptight mother! How hilarious is that?" But here, there is a sense of melancholy, as Robert cannot seem to reconcile his gay identity with his older age. And even for Grace and Frankie, their vibrator business is not just funny. There are moments of sheer hilarity (hosting a vibrator-based focus group for a room full of devout Christians), but the commentary is key: older women still experience desires. In a sense, the series has grown up with the characters. Before, it was a series of gags and pointing at the older women cracking jokes. Now, there is something beneath the surface, which makes the humor of the series work even better. 

Importantly, this means that Fonda and Tomlin are afforded the best material to work with. Gone are the loosely based caricatures of seasons past. We get it; Tomlin is the pot-smoking hippie and Fonda is the uptight shrew. Season three attempts to play with these, muddy them up, and give these two acctresses something far more dynamic and engaging to play with than what we have seen from them in recent years. And really, that is the gift that keeps on giving. 

For those watching, what are your thoughts on Season Three of Grace and Frankie? Is this its best season, or were you already a super fan? 

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Reader Comments (11)

Sex toys being sold by these two older rich Hollywood ladies seems like a bad joke. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMia

This is a great read. I really loved Season 2--I thought it was a big improvement over the freshman year. I can't wait to get into this new season. Jane Fonda should have won an Emmy for this show already. She is comic brilliance embodied. Also a shoutout to June Diane Raphael, who is killing it as Brianna.

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Like other female pairings on other recent TV shows, Fonda and Tomlin have so much chemistry,I would watch them together in ANY thing. I've enjoyed the first few episodes of S3.

Yes to Raphael; she is the one respite from all other supporting characters who have almost nothing good to do or say. In fact, Sheen and Waterstone are gawd-awful

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Hear, hear. S3 has improved on S2, which is *much* better than S1. Granted, there are still occasional detours into extreme improbability—two rich woman who live in a million-dollar beach house struggle to come up with $75,000? Get a home equity line of credit, for God's sake!—but Grace & Frankie have become more shaded as characters, best illustrated by the gun episode. (Ditto Sol & Robert, whom I agree came off as unnecessary sideshow characters.) And yes, Brianna is by far the best supporting character. (Why hasn't June Diane Raphael been Emmy nominated?! She and Lily Tomlin own that show.)

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Ooh ooh ... It feels so good ... Wow ... Mmm Mmm ....

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJane

June Diane Raphael is a gem. No matter which characters she's playing opposite, she is totally subtle, believable, and hilarious. The show has gotten better as it goes along and each season has genuine laughs. The arc about the homophobic protesters, was sort of cringe worthy...an ironic situation played completely without irony. The leading ladies are at the top of their game.

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMary Clancy

I thought s2 was great. I hadn't heard much by way of disappoitment. That season finale was extraordinary with Fonda and Tomlin's big confrontation.

"Were Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston shortchanged when it came to their secondary plot points?"

If anything there should be far, far less of them. It should be Fonda and Tomlin, then Raphael and then maybe the rest, but they could all vanish and I don't think it'd matter all that much.

March 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Season 3 is by far the best season of the series. The chemistry is infectious, the story is better.
It is one of those series where you find yourself anticipating the new season and binge-watching the whole thing.

March 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel B.

My wife and I are fans of Grace and Frankie. Season 1 took time to evolve as did the actors. S2 was fabulous. Season 3? Not so much. Feels like we are watching a Soap Opera now; not the same show of S1&2.
Everything is dis-jointed and not satisfying; the writing is awful. We are having a hard time caring about the characters and their stories now.

April 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterConnor

I must be the only person who finds Brianna sarcastic to the point of cruelty.

April 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I'm a gay man but frankly I find Sheen and Waterston the least interesting thing on the show, Waterston's actually downright annoying. Give me more of the titular characters and their kids.

April 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDanno

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