This article contains spoilers for Grace and Frankie season 5.
After season 4’s great escape from a retirement home, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) have returned to their comfort zone: the beach house. But Grace and Frankie season 5 does much to disrupt that comfort, and that’s a good thing.
CREATOR: Howard J. Morris and Marta Kauffman
This season has a few missteps but still has a lot of swearing, weed, and vibrators.
Across five seasons, the Netflix sitcom has created a satisfying arc for the two friends and given more life to their children’s and ex-husbands’ backstories. When it debuted in 2015, co-creator Marta Kauffman told the Daily Dot that although they had a certain demographic in mind, “what’s happening that’s interesting is that kids are watching it with their older parents. So it’s become a little more multigenerational. The fear is ‘only these people will watch,’ but we have a lot of people in the LGBT community, and we have a lot of young people watching.”
The start of season 5 taps into that: After Grace and Frankie return to the house, they discover influencer Kareena G (Nicole Richie) has purchased it as a place to “lay low” after bad celebrity behavior. Her realtor/handler, played by RuPaul, struggles to contain Kareena G, Grace, and Frankie.
It’s an inventive start, but there’s also the thread of the “senior moment”—Sol (Sam Waterston) uses it to defend a client accused of shoplifting—and season 5 goes deeper into how women assert themselves. After struggling to make it across the street in the allotted time, Frankie lobbies for a remodel of the crosswalk. Grace struggles to stay focused as potential clients talk down to her after finding out how old she is. At the wedding of Allison (Lindsey Kraft) and Bud (Baron Vaughn), Allison’s mom, Goldie (Meagen Fay), silences her micromanaging husband (Sam McMurray) with one of the season’s most memorable rebuttals. Grace’s daughters (June Diane Raphael and Brooklyn Decker) also assert themselves for control of the family business.
The show has just been renewed for another season, proving Netflix has faith in it, but it was still interesting to see the fan response after The Kominsky Method picked up a Golden Globe earlier this month. That series, created by Chuck Lorre, revolves around two elderly friends (Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas) who are also staring down their mortality, though their friendship extends to the entertainment business, in which they both still work. Many people wondered why it won and Grace and Frankie hasn’t, even after several nominations. It might have more to do with the voting pool than fandom, but Grace and Frankie feels bigger than that: It’s the first sitcom since The Golden Girls that has offered an extended, nuanced portrayal of women’s friendship in their 70s and 80s. The series is still struggling, however, with its depiction of gay culture, with this season extending to millennial culture as Robert tries out for a theatrical production.
In “The Highs,” the season pivots. Frankie’s idea for a vibrator business goes viral after she gets high on edibles and tweets an offer for free vibrators and donuts. Kareena G retweets it, and Frankie (along with new business partner Grace) has to figure out how to work through the blunder. They make an apology video for not delivering on the promise of 50,000 vibrators, then release another apology video that digs them in even deeper, mirroring the authentic cycle of the internet apology.
Season finale “The Alternative” indulges TV’s alternate reality trope with middling results. Sure, it sets up the next season’s conundrum—Can Grace and Frankie exist separately?—but it bends a little too far to do so. In this reality, the women never moved in together: We see Frankie as the Burning Man version of herself, still living with Robert and Sol after the divorce, and Grace sporting a distracting facelift and new husband. They are at odds, and they’re not close. Back in their reality, Grace tells Frankie how important she is to her, but reveals that she’s married boyfriend Nick (Peter Gallagher), leaving us with a genuine cliffhanger (and, perhaps, disappointing fans who think Grace and Frankie should be in a romantic relationship).
“We’re both our own Beaches,” Frankie says, grappling with the inevitable separation. This season hits a lot of the same beats as previous seasons, proving Grace & Frankie might be running out of new things for its leads to do. But maybe being their own Beaches will yield some new ways to tell the story.
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