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Life

The Charming Absurdity Of ‘Grace And Frankie’

I’ve been catching up with “Grace And Frankie,” Season 3 of which is now binge-ready on Netflix. The show, co-created by Marta Kauffman, features a classic sitcom duo: the uptight WASP (or maybe she’s Catholic?), Jane Fonda’s Grace, and the hippie-ish Jew, Lily Tomlin’s Frankie. Think Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern, had we met them not as 30-something Minnesotan neighbors but as 70-something divorcee roommates whose husbands had come out as gay and left the two of them for each other. Grace likes a stiff drink; Frankie, a good snack and a healthy overshare. They’re archetypes, yes, but played by wonderful actresses. And the show offers a distinctive older-person’s perspective on modern life, as in the (amazing) scene where the pair try to get young tech entrepreneurs to invest in their business idea: sex toys designed for older women.

“Grace And Frankie” is, for the most part, pure escapism. The show’s premise — that two women, acquaintances who never much got along, would not only cope brilliantly but join forces and share a home after being left by their newly-out husbands — is implausible in a way that demands immediate suspension of disbelief. And that profound implausibility, that baseline silliness, is why the show works. It’s set in the beachfront, mansion-rich part of California where escapist TV is more or less obligated to bring the viewer, and includes crises such as whether Frankie will sell any paintings at an amateur art show. Everyone — Grace, Frankie, their adult offspring — is a cartoon, but in a good way. All, that is, except two:

The part that hasn’t won me over quite as much is the ongoing, if increasingly unexplained, subplot involving the husbands, Robert and Sol, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston. Their attempts at negotiating life as elderly gay newlyweds demand a more serious treatment than the show could provide. What we’re left with instead is a semi-serious side plot, along the lines of the parent drama in shows mainly about teens. (I’m thinking especially of “My So-Called Life.”) The show is at its best when it offers up life’s complexities as a given, but manages to transcend those and keep the focus instead on hijinks and absurdity.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at bovy@forward.com. She is the author of “The Perils Of ‘Privilege’”, from St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter, @tweetertation

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