I had really high hopes for the second season of Grace and Frankie, after becoming quite a big fan of it last year. I really enjoyed its fresh take on the odd couple type of relationship that it explored, I loved seeing two great actresses being given a job and a pretty good one at that, and especially I thought it was about time that television focus on the lives and adventures of people of a certain age without focusing on disease, death, and senility. I had some apprehensions about the show, such as its too easy jokes about how at odds some characters were with modern society or technologies, but the show was funny, well acted, and had me in stitches the majority of the time. My hope was that with an entire year to work on fresh scripts, and with the fact that Grace and Frankie finally had found a rhythm to living together, that the show would move beyond the bickering and explore stories that turned somewhat archetypal characters into more complex ones, with interesting storylines, all the while being really funny. Unfortunately, I feel, the show has gone down the wrong route and this new season was just not a very good one.
Prior to last year’s debut season both Fonda and Tomlin hadn’t really been showcased effectively for the better part of 20 years. They had been featured as parts of ensembles or in guest role capacities, but they definitely hadn’t anchored their own television show or film in a very long time. Since the success of the first season and the many accolades (including Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Tomlin) both actresses have enjoyed a career rejuvenation. Tomlin starred in the indie tragicomedy Grandma and nabbed several awards, including a Golden Globe nomination. Fonda had a small but memorable role in Youth and also was nominated for a Golden Globe. The past year also was a good year for roles and films that centered on people of a certain age without deriding them or focusing on dying and disease (great examples include I’ll See You in My Dreams and the documentary Iris). With all this good attention on the population over 70, somehow Grace and Frankie has lost a bit of its luster and freshness.
Picking up on last season’s cliffhanger where Sol (Sam Waterston) and Frankie had shared a night together and immediately regretted it, the entire cast rushes to the hospital because Robert (Martin Sheen) had had a heart attack. Before his operation, though, Robert wants to get married, and Sol is too worried about his fiancee’s health to tell him what had transpired between him and Frankie, who is to perform the ceremony, because it crazy land this is all normal. Meanwhile Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) is pregnant with twins, and Coyote (Ethan Embry) is still looking for his birth mother.
I hate to say it, but after watching all 13 episodes of the season I had yet to crack a single smile. Before writing this review I looked over my review from last year and I had stated that each episode had me laughing out loud. After recommending the show, one person began texting me all the lines that tickled her – there were lots of texts. This time around the show was just not funny. It also was frustrating, because it has become very clear the writers don’t know what to do with the incredibly talented cast. It seemed as though last season Grace and Frankie had finally figured out how to coexist and even like each other, and then suddenly this season we are back to the bickering and petty arguments and meanspiritedness as though the two characters had forgotten that they got along now. Frankie is back to her confusions with modern technology. Sol and Robert spend a huge chunk of the season separated and not speaking. The kids barely are acknowledged and get no real solo scenes this season, unlike the last. Frankie and Brianna (June Diane Raphael) bicker over Frankie’s yam lube, which is meant to be funny maybe but the joke grows tired very quickly.
Both ladies this season get romantic interests, though. For Frankie, her yam growing Jacob (Ernie Hudson) returns and the two give a relationship a go. They are sweet together, even if he is a bit too good to be true; it’s just not really clear why they like each other and the two don’t really have a lot of chemistry. For Grace the man in question is someone from her past she can consider dating, now that she is single. That man is named Phil and he is played by Sam Elliott, who has been busy the past year romancing Blythe Danner, Debra Winger, Lily Tomlin, and now Jane Fonda (he is the hunk for the over 70 crowd). Fonda and Elliott have a bit more chemistry, but the way the show handles their relationship is a bit clunky and soapy. They could have done better.
The series is a great showcase for actors of a certain age to pop up in guest capacities (Marsha Mason, Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, Rita Moreno, Conchata Ferrell, Joe Morton), I just wish that the writers knew what to do with all these talented individuals and actually utilize their powerhouse abilities, instead of going for the cheap and easy joke and the one-off cameo. The best showing of a guest actor unfortunately is Carrie Preston (The Good Wife) who plays Coyote’s birth mother, and she does her awesome thing despite the one-dimensional character assigned her.
Already renewed for a third season I would express hope that something be done about this show, which needs a burst of energy and a metaphorical hip replacement stat, but I am begging to lose faith. I expected the show to grow stronger and fine tune its weaknesses, instead it has done the opposite. I will keep my fingers crossed, but at this point the show may be on its last legs, which is shameful and an embarrassment, because it deserves so much better, and it should be so much better as well.