Review: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin get over their gay husbands in ‘Grace and Frankie’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

PinkNews reporter Nick Duffy reviews Netflix series Grace and Frankie, which stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

Grace and Frankie is the latest in a slew of online-only shows to attempt to tackle LGBT issues in a way that mainstream TV couldn’t touch.

In an effort to ape the success of Orange is the New Black and Transparent, the show tries to tell a complex story of multi-faceted gay characters, when two men in their seventies come out to their respective wives – and plan to marry each-other instead.

The two women, the eponymous Grace and Frankie, bond as they deal with the collapse of their marriages and their new-found ‘love square’. Hilarity ensues… or is supposed to anyway.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the likes of ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ – but not much of the dialogue feels particularly sharp. There’s definitely more laugh-out-loud moments than most half-hour US comedies, but it’s below the levels we’re used to from subscription shows.

Nothing is subtle about the concept, but special mention has to go to whichever bright spark chose ‘Stuck in the Middle’ as the theme music for a show about jilted lovers. Possibly the cringiest, least original choice in all of television?

The show also serves partly as a reunion for camp classic ‘9 to 5’ (yes, the one the song is from) – with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin playing opposite each other once again to perfection as Grace and Frankie.

Unfortunately fans of the film will be left cold by the lack of Dolly Parton. Her absence from the project is a huge shame, given how much I’d love to see the three together again, but I haven’t given up hope of Netflix holding back a surprise cameo.

Nonetheless, both the legendary actresses shine, making the best out of what material they are given, and proving that 35 years later they are still every bit as sharp as at their prime.

They are aided by Martin Sheen, who is perfectly cast as Grace’s husband Robert – any West Wing fans can amuse themselves during the show’s duller moments by thinking of him as a retired Josiah Bartlet, finally coming out.

Unfortunately, Sam Waterston is wasted in a dud role as Frankie’s boring other half Sal. Along with most of the supporting cast, he ends up being so annoying that this reviewer couldn’t help hoping for the theme music to be re-enacted Reservoir Dogs style at times.

However, there is still a lot to be said for the show – and it’s far from a complete write off. It does an adept job of telling the story of older gay people – seldom seen on TV at all – and also explores the human complexities of coming out beyond the usual glorified It Gets Better poster.

You’re never quite sure how to feel about the husbands – should you be happy they’ve come out, or appalled they’ve been effectively cheating on their wives for decades? Would the show still be cracking jokes if they’d cheated with women? Would it exist to begin with?

These are issues that would just never be explored on network TV, and on that level it must surely be praised, even if the jokes fall flat in places.

Sadly it’s a Dolly Parton-shaped hole away from sitting alongside Transparent and OiTNB as a true online gem – but the combined star power of Tomlin, Fonda and Sheen still manages to concoct an entirely watchable show.

Grace and Frankie is available on Netflix from May 8.

Watch a trailer below: