Wow! You’ve hooked up?” a 25-year-old queer friend recently said to me (a Baby Boomer). “I didn’t think you’d know what that meant!”
Watching “Grace and Frankie,” a new series streaming on Netflix, set near Los Angeles, starring Lily Tomlin, 75, and Jane Fonda, 77, would make my young bud’s head spin.
In the show, Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) talk about sex, discuss vaginal lubricants (as easily as you might discuss how you take your coffee) and have sex (though not with each other). Grace, married for four decades to Robert (Martin Sheen), and Frankie, wed for 40 years to Sol (Sam Waterston), are frenemies. Left to their own devices they’d never hang out. They’re forced to socialize, because Robert and Sol are partners in a law firm. One evening over dinner, Robert and Sol deliver a sucker punch: for 20 years they’ve been lovers, and now that same-sex marriage is legal in California, they’ll be leaving them and getting married. Grace and Frankie, gobsmacked, slowly overcome their mutual distaste for each other and become BFFs.
With “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman as executive producer, “Grace and Frankie” is a New Age, “California liberal,” touching, sometimes grating “I Love Lucy” — if Ricky and Fred were coming out to Lucy and Ethel. Did I mention it’s addictive? Why am I hooked on a show that’s no “Transparent” (Amazon’s show about a man coming out to his family as transgender) or “House of Cards” (Season 4 can’t come fast enough)? Because, Tomlin, Fonda, Sheen and Waterston are such terrific actors that viewing them reciting grocery lists would be spectacular.
Equally eye-catching, “Grace and Frankie” gives visibility to older actors and characters, hetero and queer. People over 65 are just over 14 percent of the population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet elders are rarely seen on the silver screen or on TV as anything other than “grumpy old men,” psycho grannys or retro “Golden Girls” wannabees.
There are about 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in the U.S. today. The number is likely to increase by 2030, according to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE). Yet, there have been few portrayals in films of older LGBT people coming out, having sex, enjoying romance — let alone marrying.
It’s a pleasure to watch Tomlin, Fonda, Sheen and Waterston inhabit their characters in “Grace and Frankie.” It’s hard to believe that anyone, no matter their age, wouldn’t find them attractive.
In her superb one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” (written by her wife Jane Wagner), Kate, one of Tomlin’s characters, has “affluenza.” Watching “Grace and Frankie,” I sometimes wondered if the series’ characters suffered from this malady. They’re hard-working and altruistic (Grace is a retired cosmetics executive; Frankie, an artist, teaches former prison inmates). On hearing that same-sex marriage is legal, Frankie says, “I know. I hosted the fundraiser.” Yet, with their beach house, rants and new agey meditation, they can seem entitled and frivolous.
But it’s fun and moving to see Grace and Frankie fight to make themselves visible in a world that often doesn’t see people over 50. Grace melts down when a store cashier, obsessed by a young woman buying lottery tickets, won’t serve her. “We have a superpower,” Frankie, who’s stolen cigarettes from the market, says after dragging Grace to the car, “You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.”
I couldn’t quite believe (though I know the show’s a comedy) that Robert and Sol, in Los Angeles, needed to wait 20 years to come out. Yet their relationship seems believable to me. When Robert says to Sol, “I’m never not going to be coming out, am I?” or Sol finds himself still loving Frankie — you believe it.
“Grace and Frankie” has been picked up for a second season. Check it out. It ages well.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.