Twenty-five years after first appearing on screen together in 9 to 5, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin star together as the titular characters in Netflix’s new comedy from the minds that brought us Friends, which just so happens to be my favorite sit-com. This new show takes several tropes from previous comedy shows and mashes them all together. It’s one part Golden Girls, heavy doses of The Odd Couple, with a sprinkling of Kate & Allie for good measure.
The premise is really quite simple, revisiting common sitcom situations (sorry for the redundancy there) with a just slightly modern twist: two mismatched women end up living together and forming a friendship in spite of their obvious differences when their respective husbands leave them because they had been carrying on an affair with each other for twenty years and are finally ready to come out of the closet and live out the rest of their years as openly gay. Fonda plays Grace, a former CEO of her own successful company and a tightly wound woman of society. Tomlin is Frankie, a free spirited hippie who is all things new age and spiritual. Basically if Monica and Phoebe had never really gotten along and were thrust together in their seventies you would then have these two women. Grace’s former husband is played by Martin Sheen, who impresses as the tightly-wound but very passionate Robert; while Frankie’s ex is played by Sam Waterston as Sol, a sensitive and lovable man with many idiosyncrasies who wears his heart and emotions on his sleeve. Rounding out the cast are the two couples’ adult children. Grace and Robert have two daughters while Frankie and Sol have two sons, unfortunately named Coyote and Nwabudike – a joke introduced in the first episode to reflect Frankie’s alternative lifestyle that doesn’t really land in the first place, and saddles the show with the awkwardness of having the characters call each other by such ridiculous names.
I must say that I was somewhat surprised to see such negative reviews for this show. Sure, the events and the characters are a little stale sometimes but not ridiculously so. There has been a little bit of criticism specifically in reference to how the characters, especially Grace and Robert’s daughters Mallory and Brianna, react to the news of the men’s homosexuality. Referencing other recent shows depicting adult children reacting well and with acceptance to their parents coming out. I honestly don’t find the critiques warranted. They rang more true than when people behave forcefully negatively or too happy to embrace the news. Sure, some jokes are made and passive aggressive behavior is showcased, but this is exactly how some people cope and adapt to changes, especially this drastic that affect the very fabric of the family home. Perhaps because some elements of this were close to some of my own life experiences, I found the foundation for these types of interactions and reactions to be quite solid.
Mostly, though, the show is actually funny. It can be definitely said that some scenes and jokes feel a little tired, stale, or even groan-worthy but what elevates this project is the acting and how these actors sell the jokes. Tomlin has been a solid comedienne for decades now, we expect her to be funny and she doesn’t disappoint. Her style and physicality are put to great use and the writing is definitely fine-tuned in order to match and serve her strengths. Fonda is a surprise. While always a great actress and a strong “straight man” around whom shenanigans take place, she is also allowed to stretch herself and play more with Grace. She even gets to showcase physical comedy in ways she hasn’t been allowed to do thus far. She really impressed me.
Although the main cast members are all in their seventies playing people of their same age, the show doesn’t devolve into old people jokes very often, which is a nice change of pace (unlike, say, Modern Family which never lets Ed O’Neill’s character forget his age). Only one episode that finds Frankie at odds with a new Apple laptop goes for really low hanging fruit and milks it for the entire episode, especially odd since she otherwise is so aware of technology and how to use it (the first episode sees her vlogging with her iPhone, rendering the laptop storyline completely incongruous and ridiculous). Yes these characters are old and edging towards life’s twilight, but damn it – they are not finished with living and they are all hell bent on making sure that they will enjoy and live fully whatever time left they have.
I laughed out loud several times each episode and had a really good time watching the show. It isn’t perfect and could definitely use some fine-tuning, but it is a strong debut and a nice medium to see two amazing actresses at the top of their game get the chance to play, have fun, and even poke fun at their images and statuses as aging actresses in a business that most of the time relegates them to the background, neutering them of their still very present sex-appeal and comedy chops. If the show does get a second season, which I really hope it does, I will most definitely be watching it.