This is an elderly couple walking by what looks like a garden. This represents how the bias and perceptions that the larger public holds about old age are subverted in "Grace and Frankie".
Micheile Henderson

Over the course of six seasons, the show has really taught ignorant viewers about issues that crop up in old age.

Remember when you were really young and you wished that you would get older faster? You probably pretended you were one year older than you were just so you could be closer to adulthood. Being an adult was coveted because it presented as the opportune period to get whatever you want (besides the fact that you have to work for it), and also get the respect of other adults. “Grace and Frankie” brings up similar feelings and it really sells the idea of hitting your 80s.

Scratch away whatever your thought old age would look like. Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” teaches that when you hit your 80s, you will still grow and evolve. In fact the foundation of the series started with a huge change. Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) and her husband Robert Hanson (Martin Sheen) had been married for many years and maintained a friendship with Robert’s business partner Sol Bergstein (Sam Waterson) and his wife Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) when a huge news changed everything. Robert and Sol ran their own divorce law firm so their two families became very close over the years. But decades later everyone was shocked when Sol and Robert revealed that they were actually closeted gay lovers who had hid their feelings for one another for many years for the good of their families. The change was not well received.

Still, Sol and Robert decided that they wanted to retire their business and start their lives together. It was a traumatic event for both Grace and Frankie. It meant that Grace lost herself in an unhappy marriage for no reason when she could have found love with another man and also that the men continuously lied to their wives. Of course Sol and Robert had everything figured out, they planned on living together in Sol’s home but in the meantime, Grace and Frankie were lost. They could only afford to live together in the Hanson’s beach home. It would have been a dream if the women liked each other but things were rocky for a while before it got better. Eventually though, they became inseparable.

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The story is actually very sweet. Over the course of six seasons, the show has really taught ignorant viewers about issues that crop up in old age while breaking down stereotypes about aging. It’s really an underdog story with a multifaceted meaning that is touching enough to reach anyone. First of all, Sol and Robert’s coming out story is marked by real life coming out stories of elders who grew up in less accepting environments which meant that they had to hide their real selves. Also, Grace’s entrepreneurial spirit hits ageism head on and forces audiences to reflect on their ideas about what you can achieve when you get older. Likewise, the casual but effective way that the show’s writers address serious topics like sex in old age, marriage, and even family relationships, helps to illustrate how marginalized the elderly often are in western culture and how we disregard their issues, their stories and their agency. It’s even more spectacular that the actual artists to push the story forward are seasoned American actors who actually reflect the ages they represent. See? Representation matters!

With every season, the show gets better and better. Season six of “Grace and Frankie” was especially enjoyable to watch. Grace got married (a nod to the fact that you can find love later in life) but struggled to accept the age difference between herself and her much younger billionaire husband Nick Skolka (Peter Gallagher). Frankie responded terribly to the news of the marriage at first but when it really came down to it, when Grace needed her, she dropped everything to be there for her best-friend.

Grace’s insecurity about her age gap with Nick meant that she wasn’t able to ask him for help when she really needed it so that she could preserve an image of youth. So, when she was stuck on a toilet, Frankie saved the day. It inspired an opportunity. Frankie saw a business opening to help other elderly people with the same problem and that’s how a toilet with a component to assist in standing up from a seated position, was created. They dubbed this invention “Rise Up”.

The sixth season of the show, basically shows their journey as they attempt to pitch their business to investors while managing their interpersonal relationships. Along the way, a family member gets diagnosed with cancer, Grace’s personal brand “Say Grace” faces a business battle and her friendship with Frankie is tested. But every scene is packed with lively and hysterical moments that make a viewer forget that they are learning along the way.

It’s particularly important how the writers of the show are able to fold in serious topics such as feminism, friendship, how to start a business, and women’s issues in every narrative. Take for instance, the careful consideration given to conversations about marriage. The marriage between both Grace and Nick and even with Robert highlighted the problems within the institution. The show illustrates how often the institution feels more life a trap for women and often pressures them into entering relationships they don’t want to be in. It showed how it largely benefits men. To confront this issue, the writers actually force Grace to contend with how her relationship with Nick was harming her ability to maintain her identity, while enabling her oldest daughter Brianna (June Diane Raphael) to develop an unconventional relationship with her long term boyfriend Barry (Peter Cambor). Their story is a lesson on contemporary romance and it almost gives permission to viewers to realize that they can create their own idea of a relationship that benefits everyone involved.

The writers of “Grace and Frankie” are very thoughtful and decisive about creating a welcoming tone. They do this masterfully by proving relatable and nuanced characters. In Grace you will find the business woman with a laser focus on being a success and giving value to others. Yet Grace is also an alcoholic control freak, an absent mother, emotionally stiff, lacking in the area of emotional intelligence, and communication. Her two daughters Brianna and Mallory (Brooklyn Decker), mirror her flaws but they also enrich viewers with their own personal brand of messed up. This consideration towards variability is also shown in how Frankie juxtaposes Grace’s cold personality with her continued efforts to add colour and laughter to every event. Frankie’s characterization, her wide and unpredictable actions, her welcoming and understanding attitude, and her Laissez-faire lifestyle is contagious. Her children Coyote (Ethan Embry) and Nwabudike (Baron Vaughn) are equally eccentric.

I’m partial to this story because it persuades a feeling of ease when watching. Every topic, even the heavy ones, are addressed with the intention of staying true to the smooth and humorous tone of the story. “Grace and Frankie” isn’t an epic moving drama, but it’s perhaps the type of feel-good TV everyone needs, to relax after a heavy day. It’s true, the acting isn’t always sincere, there are very little minorities in the series (it’s clearly meant to be a white show), the jokes don’t always land, and there are more than a few moments that will make you cringe (especially early on in the series), but as a whole, the message of the show almost makes up for all of these failings. And it stands as a reminder to always be true to your identity. It prompts people to think about limitations in their life and possibly see that at any point in their life, they can re-invent themselves and be happy.

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