If there is a theme for television in the second decade of the 21st century, it might be “coming out aged.” It is appropriate given that new shows and movies are handling the once avoided subjects of aging, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Netflix is making a name for itself as a producer of quality entertainment – not simply a library. Grace and Frankie seems to be the Netflix version of Hulu’s Transparent. In Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor portrays Maura Pfefferman, a man who comes out as transgender late in life and must deal with the family aftermath.
Although Grace and Frankie doesn’t deal with transgender revelation, the story revolves around the secret relationship between Sol Bergstein and Robert Hanson (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen). They reveal themselves as homosexual to their wives Grace and Frankie (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) in the first scene.
The comedy is driven by each family’s reaction to this news that the long-time law partners are now partnered in love as well. Grace and Frankie are as different as Oscar and Felix, which makes their process of healing both entertaining and full of difficult moments. We watch them slowly bond over shared problems and decades of living in the dark.
It would be unfair to say this is a comedy for all ages. To do so would ignore the very real and mature subject matter that is handled so delicately for a comedy. This series requires empathy that can only be obtained with time and experience. The younger range of the audience may benefit most from punchlines that highlight the struggles of aging.
Jane and Lily, born 1937 and 1939 respectively, perform beautifully together alongside Martin and Sam who were both born in 1940. Officially, this makes the actors members of the “Silent Generation” defined as those born between 1925 and 1942 – too young for World War II and not as numerous since their parents’ generation lived through severe financial insecurity and war. Samantha Raphelson described this generation as having “conformist tendencies and belief that following the rules was a sure ticket to success.”
You don’t have to belong to the Silent Generation to appreciate this comedy. Find it on Netflix the next time you need something to cheer you up and give you some perspective.