Season one of Grace and Frankie is like 7-Up: easy enough to drink, sort of blandly refreshing. Its mix of progressive subject matter, familiar sitcom shenanigans, and focus on elderly protagonists combine to inspire warmth, if not passion. Fortunately, in season two the writers stir in some whiskey, adding more flavor and kick, making everything a touch funnier. It’s a considerable improvement, and much more satisfying.
At the center of the show’s premise is the shock of betrayal: the fact that the husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) of two women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) were secretly having a twenty-year love affair behind their wives’ backs. The show does well to put that shock behind it in season two, which allows it to lean into the complicated new camaraderie of its female leads. Fonda’s stuck-up, buttoned-down Grace has the more fraught and interesting journey this year, as her divorce forces her to come to terms with her distorted perception of herself over the years—not to mention her reliance on alcohol and an unresolved romance with old flame Phil (Sam Elliott). Fonda brings her A game, providing more manic energy and dramatic heft to the stage. But as Frankie, Tomlin drives some of the more broadly comic storylines, especially her deal with Grace’s daughter Brianna (June Diane Raphael) to market a yam-based vaginal lube to the family cosmetics company. It’s the kind of zany conflict that wouldn’t be out of place in seventies sitcoms, but the jokes land more frequently, giving the quirky dysfunctional family more chances to shine. Waterson, Raphael, and Baron Vaughn (as one of Frankie’s adopted sons, Bud, who serves as the exasperated family peacemaker) all stand out with exceptional deliveries this year.
Structurally, Grace and Frankie isn’t exactly changing the face of television comedy, but it does refreshingly serve an under-represented demographic with heart, humor, and honesty, and I’m glad I stuck around to watch it improve.