Previously on Grace and Frankie
Like the two that came before it, season three of Grace and Frankie is an absolute emotional roller coaster. Filled with hilarious and heartwarming highs, and just the right amount of sobering and emotional lows. For the most part it’s an extremely enjoyable ride, one that produces an intense compulsion to keep riding – or, to keep clicking “next.” The ride has a curious start, however, suffering from a kind of stop-and-go momentum. The first half of this season felt mostly stalled, like it was hesitant to get going, and took a little too long to kick into the right gear. After a premiere that set the stage for a deep dive into the world of mature women’s sexuality, Grace and Frankie swerves left and spends a substantial chunk of episodes focused on secret loans and guns instead.
Grace and Frankie are an odd-couple duo and they have been since the very beginning. The comedic situations arising from the highly opposite ways in which these women live their lives, and the sidesplitting bickering that goes along with it, is a large part of what drives the show. Losing that dynamic wouldn’t do Grace and Frankie any favors; they may be best friends now, but a little tension here and there is still essential. Forcing that dynamic to continue by means of false conflict, however, was a most regrettable way to keep their friction alive. Frankie’s secret loan from Brianna, and Grace’s lie about owning a gun, were both senseless ways to put a strain of the women’s friendship.
Each of these issues could have been solved with a conversation or two, (or three or four) which significantly reduces their impact. The secret keeping, on Frankie’s part in particular, feels like a break in character for the sake of plot. It could have been just as interesting to see Grace and Frankie argue over whether they should take loans from family members. Their opposing views would have created enough unease between them, without relying on a false conflict. The same goes for the gun issue. As we saw, there was plenty for Grace and Frankie to debate about when it came to the topic of guns; the lie was superfluous. The fact that Frankie was still keeping her secret while throwing a tantrum about Grace’s, made it extremely difficult to sympathize with her, despite the show guiding us in that direction. When they finally made amends, the conversation is largely about the gun and almost nothing is said about the loan. It’s maddening.
There are a few small moments that shine through this 3-episode run of nonsense, though. The walkie-talkies, Frankie’s preferred method of making promises, Grace getting high and admitting she never feels lonely with Frankie around, Frankie’s insistence on sleeping in Grace’s bed, and, of course, several choice one-liners from both women. It’s in many of these moments where you see how deep their friendship has become, and the lying makes even less sense. These moments aren’t quite enough to forgive the contrived rift in their friendship, which also caused precious time to be diverted from the Vybrant storyline.
Unfortunately, even an episode from early on that did have Vybrant at its center, left a little something to be desired. When the first prototypes of the Ménage À Moi vibrator arrive, Grace and Frankie dive immediately into product testing and finding a focus group. The episode goes on to bring up the very real issue of shame surrounding a woman’s desire to masturbate, but never fully engages with it in any meaningful way. The focus group, who are a church group, storm out of the beach house disgusted by the frank discussion of masturbation. A day later they’ve decided they would, in fact, like to try the vibrators but they come to this conclusion off screen. There’s no further exploration about why these women had hesitations or how they managed to set them aside in favor of personal pleasure. This missed opportunity feels even more regrettable as the season progresses, as there’s never another occasion for more of these round-tables with older women.
Thankfully, from episode seven and on, Grace and Frankie stays on track. The intersections between women’s sexuality and aging, and starting a business late in life once again take center stage. They face a couple of setbacks, like when they both throw out their backs and become “floor people” for a day, but Grace and Frankie continue to support each other when it’s most important. Episode 8, in particular, showcases some of the best material regarding society’s views on mature women’s sexuality. After getting a website for Vybrant and receiving a glowing review for the Ménage À Moi, Grace and Frankie still don’t have any customers. So, they consider adding a third partner, one who already owns a company, Purple Orchid, focused on adult entertainment.
At first, Purple Orchid feels like a step in the right direction. Frankie is especially pleased to learn she’ll have a marketing team pitch ideas to her, so she can do the exact amount of work she prefers: none. The women are assured that the campaign strategy for Vybrant is guaranteed to make their business a success. Once they see what the marketing team has in mind, however, things get complicated. Grace and Frankie are the faces and bodies, the highly Photo-Shopped faces and bodies, of the Ménage À Moi. As if Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda need any touching up to make them look fabulous, but there they are, with tighter skin and bustier chests, on the packaging mock-ups.
Grace and Frankie are informed that, nobody wants to see older women on a vibrator’s box. Sex is supposed to be young, and no one wants to associate older women with the subject in general. It’s absurd, but depressing because of its authenticity. Truthful to her character, Frankie isn’t interested in selling out, but Grace takes a bit of convincing. A few decades ago it would have been a no-brainer for her, but she’s started basing a lot of decisions on whether or not she’ll regret it at the end of her life. Ultimately, Grace comes to the conclusion it’s not the right direction for the Ménage À Moi. “We can’t play a part in erasing the very women we made this for” – is possibly one of the most profound things Grace has ever said. As if in response to this choice, the Vybrant website starts overflowing with more than 5000 pre-orders.
Just as Vybrant is ready to mail out those first rounds of orders, Grace and Frankie get a couple of curveballs. A tech company has created a near replica of the Ménage À Moi, and Jacob is planning a permanent move to Santa Fe. While the competing vibrator is certainly no small issue, Jacob’s move and the question of whether Frankie will move with him, is a major driving force of the final few episodes. It’s a much better executed conflict than we saw earlier in the season; it feels completely organic, and the tension arises not from avoiding the topic but from the very real consequences of Frankie’s decision. Grace is obviously hurt by the thought of Frankie leaving, but feels advising her friend one way, or another, is a lose-lose situation. For Frankie, she’s caught between two kinds of love. At a younger age the decision would have, perhaps, been easier, but now, there may only be time left to explore one option. It’s another excellent way in which the writers bring the focus back to discussions of aging.
Reminders of their age are all around Grace and Frankie this season. After word got out about their day spent on the floor, the kids all chip in to get their mothers Life Alerts. Grace and Frankie are offended by the gesture, and don’t take the devices too seriously. For a few episodes, the Life Alerts are around to produce laughs, but they also bring up the interesting topic of just who benefits more from them: the person it’s registered to, or the family member whose guilt is assuaged by buying them? Once a certain event in episode 11 comes to pass, though, the Life Alert proves it’s worth. The event is a real turning point for Grace and Frankie, as the show’s sunny tone starts to cloud over. As the twelfth episode comes to a close, all is not ok between the best friends, and we witness some of the most heartbreaking moments in the show’s history. Jane Fonda delivers some of her series best work when telling Frankie, “I thought I was watching my best friend die.” This is by far the deepest emotional rift we’ve seen these women face – much worse than keeping secrets, or making drunken mistakes. The way they feel is out in the open, but the opposing worldviews and tension remains. And the conflict heading into the season finale feels very authentic.
Grace and Frankie S3
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston, Martin Sheen, Brooklyn Decker, Ethan Embry, June Diane Raphael, and Baron Vaughn