Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lucy and Ethel Move to the Beach

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

One of the programs that I have been watching through my Internet streaming device, the Roku, is a new sitcom from Netflix called Grace and Frankie – a show written especially to fit the talents of its two female leads:  Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie).

As the series begins, the two ladies, both in their early seventies, are acquainted through their husbands who have been law partners for many years, but the wives are starkly different from one another and not close friends.  Grace is a professional woman who has started and run her own cosmetics company before recently retiring and turning the business over to one of her two adult daughters.    She has been married to Robert (Martin Sheen) for forty years.

Frankie, on the other hand, is an unreconstructed hippie.  She and her husband of forty years, Sol (Sam Waterston), have two adopted sons who are now adults.

The conflict is established in the first episode when the husbands take the wives out for a nice dinner.  At that meal they inform their shocked spouses that they have been carrying on a secret affair with each other for twenty years and plan on divorcing the wives so that they – the husbands – can marry.

Each of the couples own and reside in a very nice home in San Diego, and they jointly own a beach house in neighboring La Jolla – probably near the Romney beach manse with the infamous car elevator.  Grace and Frankie, unbeknownst to one another, each decides to leave their primary homes with their husbands and move into the beach house.  From that point on, for the first episode at least, it’s pure Lucy and Ethel (or Laverne and Shirley for you younger types), but coping in modern times which are punctuated with sex, drugs, and f-bombs.

In the first episode, which is particularly contrived in order to introduce a host of plot points, Frankie is relaxing in what she assumes is her new home when Grace arrives to begin her post-marital life there also.    After a bit of personal conflict, Frankie heads to the beach where she apparently intends to spend the night.  A worried Grace goes looking for her later in the evening.   Grace, sitting with Frankie on the beach, complains of aches and pains in her seventy-year-old body, and Frankie hands her a muscle relaxer.  Grace gratefully accepts and then grabs Frankie's glass of tea to wash it down – not realizing that the tea is made from peyote.

And then the two older women are crawling around on the beach “listening to the sand” and “smelling the colors” while Ricky and Fred are presumably cozy at home cuddling in bed.

The show does begin to get better in later episodes (thirteen have been completed and aired so far), but, as with sitcoms in general, some of the themes are a bit worn – the women learning to date again, or the men fussing over trivialities like caterers and guest lists as they plan their wedding.

There is one exceptional scene, however, a sort of dream sequence in the fourth or fifth episode, where Grace thinks she has fallen in an ice cream parlor and wakes up in a hospital preparing to undergo hip surgery.    Grace lying in that hospital bed, a scared little old lady without makeup or pretense, preparing to spend her final years pushing a walker and surviving through the mercy of others, is a very sobering image – one that only an actress with Jane Fonda’s rare range of abilities could pull off.

Grace and Frankie is slowly becoming an exceptional series.  I look forward to the second season.

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