Pat Clark

“Grace and Frankie”: Much to say on outdated ideas of aging

Jane Fonda, left, and Lily Tomlin star in “Grace and Frankie.”
Jane Fonda, left, and Lily Tomlin star in “Grace and Frankie.” Netflix

Oh, Netflix, this could be love.

Our affair started with the streaming service’s original series “Orange Is the New Black.” Then we moved on to catching up with old TV shows I’d either abandoned or hadn’t seen in years. Then Netflix wooed me more with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” also one of its originals, this one quite the quirky show.

Now, Netflix has me basking in the glow of binge watching yet another of its originals, “Grace and Frankie.”

Starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, respectively, as the title characters, this comedy, with a lot of touching drama mixed throughout, is refreshing because of its focus on life not just after 40, not after 50 and not even after 60. The main characters here are in their 70s.

Yes, a modern, funny and well-made show about people – particularly, gasp, women – past age 70 that not only suggests life isn’t over after AARP admittance, but actually can be just as fun, fulfilling, miserable and frustrating as any other decade in a person’s life.

Radical stuff, no?

Sure, there are nods to the aging process peppered throughout, but the show is not about old people. It’s simply about people who happen to be of a certain age.

This is not “The Golden Girls,” but Fonda and Tomlin are pure gold. And, darn if they don’t look great. Especially Fonda, who plays a 70-year-old socialite-type. Get this: The legendary actress actually is 77.

Oh, what? Looking at her – and, mind you, in one scene she’s in a slinky nightgown – makes me desperately wish I’d jumped on her fitness video bandwagon back in the 1980s. That stuff works, people.

What I love most about her character – as uptight and self-involved as she can be – is that Grace seems to not even consider the notion of aging. She wears hair extensions to make her coif fuller, but not in a comical way; she wears clothes that are modern and fashionable but not in a silly, trendy way; and she wears full makeup tastefully applied. All that’s to say she’s not gone gray, donning elastic waistbands or giving up on eyeliner and an even skin tone.

That’s not just for television, by the way. That’s real life for people over the half-century mark and far beyond.

Fonda, herself, seems fully aware and fully comfortable with growing older.

“Looking at age from the outside is so scary. But when you’re inside age – and I’m very much inside age – it isn’t scary at all,” Fonda told The Guardian while in Cannes last week.

“I’m 77 but I’m very youthful. I have passion. I have curiosity. I’ve always had a lot of energy,” Fonda said in The Guardian. “I have a fake hip, knee, thumb; more metal in me than a bionic woman, but I can still do Pilates.”

Yeah, I may be in love with her, too.

Tomlin, who actually is 75 years old, plays a free-spirit type who enjoys a good bud (of the still-illegal-in-California variety) and finding peace and her inner self via peyote tea. She wears loose, drapey hippie garb in the show, as opposed to the figure-hugging dress of Fonda, but looks just as great.

My hands-down favorite moment of the entire 13-episode season is of Tomlin’s Frankie at what she believes is an interview for an art teacher job at a retirement community. The person giving her a tour of the facility mistakenly thinks Frankie’s looking to move in rather than work there. When Frankie realizes the mistake, she’s flabbergasted.

“My joints are supple!” she exclaims in the midst of a deep knee bend to prove she’s nowhere near ready for such a move.

And she isn’t. Nor is Grace, whose inherent hotness attracts more than one suitor in the first season.

The gist of the story is that Grace and Frankie – two women who are completely different but have been forced to tolerate each other because their husbands have been law partners and best friends for decades – find out that those spouses haven’t just been partners in law; they’ve been lovers for 20 years.

The husbands, played magnificently (no surprise there) by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, both 74, decide life is too short to hide their true selves any longer and come out as gay to their wives, family and friends.

It’s a dramatic setup for a comedy, to be sure. But with award-winning actors like this crew, along with veteran show creators Marta Kauffman (“Friends”) and Howard J. Morris (“Home Improvement”), it’s deftly handled. What ensues is how the women, the men and their children handle the fallout of that life-altering declaration.

The show has been both well and lukewarmly reviewed. But I think it’s worthy not just because it makes me laugh, but also because it’s about time people over 70 aren’t depicted as the kooky grandparents or obnoxious, doddering neighbors. In this show, they aren’t side characters, nearly set out to pasture.

Perhaps it’s an ever-nearing proximity to that age group that makes me so enamored with “Grace and Frankie.” (Side note: not that near, OK, people?). The show is comforting in its revelation that aging does not inherently have to be hell. And, yes, 70 is the new 60.

I’m no doubt in large company, thanks to the baby boomer brigade. And Netflix must love us, too. Earlier this week, the show, happily, was given a second season. Its message is too important to let slip away.

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