The lives of retired cosmetics mogul Grace (played by all-American traitor Jane Fonda) and her polar opposite, free-spirit hippie and artist Frankie, played by Lily "One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy" Tomlin - collide horribly after many years of polite detente when their husbands invite them to dinner for an important announcement. Believing the announcement to be their impending retirement, they're happy to finally put their careers aside (Grace having turned over her company to her daughter) and spend their remaining years with their husbands.
Their husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam "The guy with the eyebrows from Law and Order" Waterston) surprise and shock them by instead announcing that they're both leaving their wives - for each other. Turns out they'd been law partners for 40 years, but partners in other ways on the down low for the past 20. And now that gays can get married, they've decided to come clean in their 70s and finally make honest men out of each other. Thus begins the comedy series "Grace and Frankie", a smash hit in 2015 for Netflix.
In their mortification, both Frankie and Grace decide (seprarately) to retire to a beach house that the two men bought, ostensibly at which for each couple to vacation (separately) but also which turned out to be their love nest of many years. Grace turns up just as Frankie decides to end her old life with a complicated multi-ethnic spiritual endeavor involving smudging, chanting to Hindu goddesses, and drinking a gallon of peyote tea. The argument starts as to who needs to leave to allow who time to recover from the situation, and ends with the two on the beach, Frankie having suddenly needed muscle relaxants for a back spasm ("I'm at the desert, but there's water") and Grace inadvertently chugging the "iced tea" to take a couple herself.
The two women trip hard on the beach, and spend the rest of the first episode, and the rest of the season - dealing with the aftermath.
Sadly, this sort of story is very much a case of art imitating life - many a woman who's stood by a man over the course of a career (given that the number of retiring women these days come from Baby Boomer households that didn't always have equality) intended thoroughly to spend the last remaining years with a life partner only to find he only wanted to retire to work at something else, or wanted to retire from the marriage as well as the job. One infamous case was the situation with Canadian cartoonist Lynn Johnston of "For Better or For Worse" who announced her retirement and final days in the sunset with her dentist husband Rod only to find him telling her actually he wasn't going to retire, and he was leaving her for one of his hygenists. In fact there are actually some cultures in which many men use their declining years to take monastic vows, such as sannyasi - and walk away from their wives and children and lives as something impure and materialistic - leaving the women to pick up the pieces. This is not a new story, per se.
There are any of a number of ways this story could have gone, so I was personally wary to have my own distaff life partner sit me down in front of Netflix, having heard about this "great new show". Especially since the recommendation came from her lesbian friends, I was unsure how it would all pan out.
They could have gone for the cheap laughs of the two old men being gay - and apart from Waterston becoming quite animated there's nothing particularly camp about the whole affair. They're older men, they're more concerned with pairing the wine with dinner (in line with their lawyer background) than sex. They play this for the most part "straight" (excuse the pun), intriguingly having their story be about them truly discovering their relationship, and getting some aggravations out in the open once they decide to really be an out an open couple.
They could have also gone with the "Dharma vs Greg" aspect of hippie weirdo vs Republican career girl, but the interaction between Fonda and Tomlin is more about the two realizing how much they have in common and finding that common ground, as opposed to arguing back and forth about whose lifestyle was better. Because their lives are colored by a loneliness that is peculiar to women - the discarded woman everyone kind of feels pity for and quietly shuns. But, as Frankie's older son notes wryly, if the two men had left their wives for younger women, they'd be complete bastards. But given they left their wives for the darling, in-vogue and politically correct position of getting married to each other, people are far more interested in congratulating their "courage". Frankie has to adjust to sleeping in an empty bed, and Grace is adjusting to a social calendar with lots of crossed out entries because the social occasions she was slated to do involved her now ex-husband's law firm. They've also had to adjust to suddenly declined credit cards as the two lawyers gently approach the fact that they really do need to form separation agreements, and they're not to be counted on to pay the bills anymore.
They try to rebuild their own lives, in their 70s, only to find that life has moved on without them. The cosmetics company Grace founded has taken her face off the packaging, and is marketing new products and colors to younger women. Grace is in essence redundant and a has-been, and her daughter chafes at the thought of going from being for a long time under her mother's shadow to proving herself as her own woman, only to have that taken away again. Grace is dismissed with thanks and apologies. Frankie tries to get a job as an art teacher in an old folks' home, only to be told it's ten thousand dollars a month. To live there. Oh, I'm sorry, were you not my 2 o'clock guided tour? In fact, Grace snaps when the two finally decide to bond over the cigarettes they haven't smoked in years (on order of their husbands) and when they go to try and buy a pack, the clerks ignore them- and perk up and come over to the counter when a younger, prettier woman appears. "I'll be right with you" condescends the clerk more than once, leading to a Crowning Moment of Awesome tirade from Grace, and her trashing the counter. Just because they are older women does not mean that they are invisible, irrelevant, past it, and not even worthy to do your job for.
As the season moves on, just how messy the situation gets really starts to hit home. Robert and Sol, their husbands - are partnered together, whereas the two women are trying to date in their 70s. The two men had a game plan for life going forward, and the two women in essence scramble what they can out of the divorce. But the break isn't that clean: Sol is devastated at the hurt he's causing Frankie, and Robert breaks down sobbing at a funeral because he genuinely misses Grace, as well.
Grace breaks her hip, complicating things somewhat, and the need the two female leads have for each other deepens as time goes on - not just as fellows for moral support, but genuine friends.
Other characters become fleshed out slowly as the season progresses - Frankie's younger son Coyote clearly has some kind of 12-step and legal sanction thing going on relating to addiction, leading to people hiding alcohol around him, and there's tension between him and Grace's daughter that is slowly being revealed layer by layer. In short, a dynamite cast is being given some really intriguing, multi-layer stuff to deal with. And with stellar talents like Fonda, Tomlin, Sheen(Estevez) and Waterston on the screen, the result is positively delightful.
The show has been picked up for a second season, and if it's as thought provoking and insightful and funny as the first, it'll be well worth the view.