“I can’t believe you’re that old,” a college student told me recently at a poetry reading, “and girls hook up in your poems!”
Ouch! As a card-carrying Baby Boomer lesbian, I like to think I’m forever young and ready to hook up (in poetry, if not real life). Yet, as my youthful fan’s astonishment conveyed, I’m older, and, to our youth-obsessed culture, past the age of sex and romance.
I thought of this exchange, as I binge-watched season two of “Grace and Frankie,” just out on Netflix. If a few lines in a poem about girls kissing astounded the student, this series, starring Lily Tomlin, 76, Jane Fonda, 78, Martin Sheen, 75, and Sam Waterston, 75, would totally freak her out.
“Grace and Frankie,” which features spot-on comedy along with moving drama, more than most TV series or movies, shows older people as they truly are: having sex, falling in love, hanging with their grandkids, working, looking for work, getting married, divorced, recovering from heart surgery, drinking too much, having dementia, caring for sick spouses. Did I mention talking about lubricants? Yams, lubricants – vibrators! This show has it all – up close and personal – by turns, laugh-out-loud funny or cry-your-eyes-out sad (from paintings of vaginas to scenes of a husband caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease).
When the series debuted last year, Grace (Fonda) had been married to Robert (Sheen) and Frankie (Tomlin) had been Sol’s (Waterston) wife for 40 years. Until, four decades later when same-sex marriage became legal in California, Robert and Sol, lawyers who were business partners, had some news: they’d been lovers for 20 years, they were leaving their wives and marrying each other. That was a sucker-punch to Grace and Frankie. Frenemies, at best, they were now forced by circumstances to live together (as roommates).
By now, despite their initial antipathy, Grace and Frankie have become BFFs. Part of the fun of watching the show is seeing the two hetero women with vastly different personalities share laughter, sadness, irritation and tips about everything from the bathroom being filthy to dementia to death to religion. Like many relationships, maintaining their friendship isn’t always easy for Grace and Frankie.
Grace is a perfectly coiffed, retired executive who drinks a few too many martinis and relates in a business-like way to her male God. “If you still love me, despite my drinking,” she prays, “I need your help. I’m about to do something really hard. Thank you for your time.”
Frankie is a hippie-type artist, who speaks of “the goddess” and wonders why Grace would believe in a “misogynistic,” “hellfire and brimstone” male God. While Grace is more tied to convention, Frankie has no problem driving for three years with an expired driver’s license.
I’ve loved “Grace and Frankie” since it began. Yet at times in season one, the characters from Grace and Frankie to Robert and Sol to their families and friends weren’t entirely believable. Sometimes, they were one-dimensional caricatures with “first-world” problems: whether to move to a beach house or attend a gathering with wealthy, “liberal” friends.
Happily, in season two, the show has hit its stride. “It’s grown into the actors,” my 20-something friend Seth, who enjoys the show, told me over lunch. “You can tell from the writing and acting how the characters have developed.”
Though Grace and Frankie are the focus of the show, there’s now substance in Robert and Sol’s relationship. Robert and Sol deal with infidelity, a health scare and finding their way in queer life after coming out at 70. Along with dating and drinking, Grace and Frankie help a friend with an end-of-life decision and fight against being invisible in a youth-worshipping world.
“Grace and Frankie” shows that while hard, being old can be sexy and engaging. Check it out.
Kathi Wolfe, a poet and writer, is a regular contributor to the Blade.