After the Game of Thrones episode with Sansa’s ‘deflowering’, I decided that I needed to take a break from “gritty”, “edgy” programming. A cultural shift is happening and there seems to be nothing on the table that we cannot discuss or see anymore. I’m a strong supporter of the freedom of information, artistic-expression, and choice. That said, I worry—and personally suffer at times—from the overwhelming sensationalism that surrounds certain media. I understand why it is important to accurately portray violence and evil—I have often written divisive, dark material myself. Still, I feel that an over-immersion in this type of content separates us from the humanity that we need to objectively view and tackle rigid gender roles and issues of sexuality and violence. Live too long in the darkness and darkness is all you know. Sometimes it’s easier to just turn off my brain and watch something mindless, instead of having to worry about furthering—or dismantling—negative social constructs with the material I’m watching. I look to laugh. I look for something that doesn’t tax mind or morality.
A hearty serving of brain-pap was what I intended to feed myself when my partner and I flicked on Netflix the other night. While scrolling through our options, I saw a still of Jane Fonda grimacing at Lily Tomlin and was immediately intrigued. “Grace and Frankie,” their new show is called. I didn’t read the synopsis—I rarely do, even with books. I knew that there would be tomfoolery and hilarity with this duo. Grace and Frankie has a kind of magic to its casting and delivery that’s as rare and unexpected as the scent of vanilla while standing knee deep in a fly-buzzing quagmire of manure—my analogy on the current state of crass programming that gluts our media. I rarely, if ever, watch situation comedies. Only that’s not what Grace and Frankie is, entirely, and you realize that right from the opening sequence where all four of the major characters are introduced: Grace (Fonda), Frankie (Tomlin), Sol (Waterston), and Robert (Martin Sheen). The four are at a restaurant. First, only Grace and Frankie are present and we can sense their forced pleasantness around the other. They’re really only acquaintances on account of their husbands who work together. Said husbands, Robert and Sol, arrive for dinner; they’re nervous and fidgety. The men almost immediately come out to their wives, professing their love for one another. They have been involved in an affair for decades.
At this point, there are a number of ways in which a comedy tackling social issues of this depth—homosexuality, infidelity, trust—could go horribly off the rails. However, through the power of the performances and a passable script (which gets better as the show matures), the actors guide us through a great betrayal and shattering of relationships, and build something quite remarkable from the pieces. Reviews have been mixed on Grace and Frankie. I’ve read a few blurbs on the show’s ham-fisted characterizations but I’ve never found that to be the case. In the many episodes of Grace and Frankie that I’ve enjoyed, I’ve seen the show deal with addiction, ageism, unfulfilling sexual patterns, death, and of course all of the foibles and disasters that accompany the whole “our husbands are gay” quandary. I like how the writers and actors make less of a fuss about being gay and more of a fuss about the betrayal. That’s why people are usually angry when someone comes out—they think they should have known, they blame or project themselves into the situation. I enjoy how the show slowly paces the long process of healing between former partners, and interweaves that with the budding, beautiful friendship of the titular characters.
A show can’t do or be everything, and you can only impart so much wisdom through twenty minutes of comedic drama. I can forgive the show’s failing of not being life-altering satire. What Grace and Frankie does right, however, is to show human relationships at their most flawed and vulnerable, in a digestible way. You see, it doesn’t matter what the message is if people are too offended to heed it. Grace and Frankie shows people who have hope. It shows people who are old and still beautiful (inside and out). It has a number of lessons for us to learn if we are willing. Also, you get to see Fonda tripping balls on painkillers and peyote juice in the very first episode. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Most of all, I watch Grace and Frankie because I worry for a diet of the mind consisting solely of grim, dark gruel. Too much of one thing is never good. We need levity. We need thoughtful lightness in our emotional diet. A world fed only on Cersei’s machinations and Sansa’s cries makes for a starved and violent populace.
All my love,
P.S. This will be my final, non-Feast-of-Dreams-centric blog until July.