When Netflix’s Grace and Frankie premiered back in 2015, the premise of a series about the lives and loves of elderly characters, anchored by icons Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, didn’t sound like something that would hold my interest. Fast forward to seven seasons later, and I’m inconsolable at the notion of this ride coming to an emotionally-charged end.
Looking back at the show’s enviable run, it’s not hard to figure out how and why Grace and Frankie evolved into the obsession that kept younger fans like myself, hooked and grateful for the pleasant discovery of what our twilight years could possibly look like. Miley Cyrus of all people tweeted out her support for the series almost as soon as it started. And during a 2019 SNL sketch, Kim Kardashian’s main squeeze Pete Davidson with the help of actor Paul Rudd and DJ Khaled, unleashed rap verses to the tune of his favorite show.
The series made me want to find my “ride or die,” who’s up for any and every adventure, despite the unavoidable obstacles that will inevitably crop up.
Jane Fonda was born to play Grace Hanson, the beauty executive with a penchant for consuming countless glasses of martinis and an endless supply of witty comebacks. And nobody but Lily Tomlin could portray the quirky, die-hard hippie and artist Frances “Frankie” Bergstein; she’s a lover, not a fighter, who takes her spirituality very seriously, and Tomlin absolutely nails it. In order to appreciate the series, you have to understand why Grace and Frankie forged such a close bond in the first place: It has to do with the unexpected shock that kicks off the series.
We meet our two future heroines in the middle of a tension-filled conversation with their soon-to-be ex-husbands, Sol and Robert, played by Sam Waterston and the always engaging Martin Sheen, respectively. The setup reveals the unfathomable: both Sol and Robert not only come out as gay, but they reveal they’ve been involved in a torrid love affair behind their wives’ backs. Oh, and they plan to marry each other once their divorces to Grace and Frankie are final. Needless to say, the news of the abrupt end to each of their marriages forces the wives to turn to each other for comfort—and in Grace’s case, this also leads to an increase in boozing. These one-time rivals now have a whole hell of a lot in common.
It doesn’t take long for the laundry-list of differences between these newly divorced women-turned-housemates to surface, threatening signs of yet another split. But, over time, Grace and Frankie slowly begin to realize that they have a lot more in common than being betrayed by husbands who fell madly in love with each other. As the seasons progressed, they enthrall viewers with an inspirational friendship that was really never meant to be: just two scorned women, faced with the herculean task of helping each other heal.
A central theme of the show is the fragility of relationships and the bonds that become unbreakable—a facet that keeps viewers coming back for more. It’s captivating to watch a shaky friendship morph into a beautify love story. It’s even more notable that these women are so vibrant and full of creativity in their late seventies, giving us all hope that you can really find your “soulmate,” whatever that may look like, at any age. I’ll say it: Grace and Frankie have de-stigmatized the woes of aging for me.
And I just love the absurdity of some of the plot points: becoming activists, infiltrating the youth-dominated startup space, fervently campaigning for the restored dignity of “women of a certain age.” From homemade yam vaginal lubes to help solve the embarrassing dryness “down there” to hydraulic toilets that lift up for those who are no longer quick on their feet, watching these two budding inventors has really been a trip.
As the series nears the finish line, the stakes only get higher, and the storylines boldly go where a lot of shows won’t. The uncomfortable silence around the consequences of getting older and how that scary stuff changes everything blares loudly throughout each season. I still think about the “The Crosswalk” episode from Season 5, when Frankie made a huge deal about the unfairness of endangering the lives of older pedestrians, who’ve earned the right to take their time crossing the street.
The final season of Grace and Frankie, which is currently streaming, continues this thematic display of combatting societal ills of ageism. It also pays proper homage to the individual journeys of each character, many of whom are reconciling with the past in order to prepare for the future. Sol and Robert are still madly in love and the deepness of those emotions will carry them through the trials of navigating Robert’s sudden onset of memory loss. Grace and Frankie have survived their own dizzying highs and lows by outwitting anyone that dared to stand in their way, including their nosey adult children.
In the end, Grace and Frankie finally finds its perfect beginning. Even though our favorite ladies are a little older and inching closer to that final curtain call, the series finale provides the reassurance that nothing can tear these two apart—not even guest star Dolly Parton, who couldn’t resist a 9 to 5 reunion for the opportunity to play a “working class angel” in heaven who gets to make a decision that left me breathless.
Grace and Frankie captured my heart and can surely resonate with every generation, young and old. At the end of the day, we all want to be loved and feel the security of being able to trust someone unconditionally. We watched that manifest with these two, and we leave our girls in the embrace of what can’t be denied. Love really does conquer all. So, while Frankie is bemoaning the advancement of arthritis and how its robbed her ability to paint, and Grace deals with panic attacks from unresolved childhood issues and disappointments from yet another dissolved marriage, we’ll never have to worry about them. They’ve got each other.