April 15, 2017 at 11:32 am EDT | by Kathi Wolfe
New meaning for ‘Grace and Frankie’ in Trump era
Grace & Frankie, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Melissa Moseley; courtesy Netflix)

“I didn’t mean to binge,” my 20-something friend said to me the other day, “but I couldn’t stop!”

“Me, too!” I, a Baby Boomer, confessed, “I was totally hooked.”

What is this cross-generational addiction? “Grace and Frankie,” the hilarious, and, at times, poignant Netflix series, starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Season 3 of the show is streaming now.

Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) have been married for decades to respectively Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterson). Both couples, living in the Los Angeles area of California and in their 70s, have children. Of course, these aren’t your typical boring kids. One son’s a recovering drug addict and one daughter sleeps with a $300-a-night male escort. That’s just for starters.

After years and years of hetero marriage, Robert and Sol, business partners at their law firm and friends, come out as gay and leave their wives. Grace and Frankie have never liked each other much. Frankie’s an artist – a spontaneous, hippie type; Grace is a retired cosmetics executive and control freak. But after their marriages end, they become roommates and friends.  Even with the shock of Rob and Sol’s big reveal, Grace, Frankie, Rob, Sol and their children remain friends and family to each other.

It’s “The Odd Couple” meets “Friends” meets “I Love Lucy.” It’s as if Ethel and Lucy were roommates, Ricky and Fred were gay, Ross and Chandler were openly queer, and Felix and Oscar were hetero older women and into vibrators. (Marta Kauffman, a “Grace and Frankie co-creator, was a co-creator of “Friends.”)

Which brings us to the newest season of “Grace and Frankie.”  Grace and Frankie have decided to go into business designing and selling vibrators. And not just any vibrators. These vibrators are developed with the older woman in mind. The buttons glow in the dark and the instructions are in large print for elder women who have problems seeing; and the vibrators are lightweight so that the women’s sexual pleasure won’t cause their arthritis to flare up.

Meanwhile, Robert and Sol are coming to terms with retirement and with coming out of the closet later in life. They garden, dream about traveling, enjoy sex, and relish knowing that they can have sex. Robert lands the lead role in a community theater production of the musical “1776.”

Though “Grace and Frankie” is a comedy, life (as is sometimes true for older people and their families off-screen) isn’t always upbeat for its characters. As is common for many elder women seeking to become entrepreneurs, Grace and Frankie have a hard time getting a loan to set up their business. (As Ann Brenoff noted in The Huffington Post, their unabashed sexuality and promotion of vibrators likely didn’t help them make their case.)

Robert has to deal with coming out to his 90-something mother. Their kids want their moms to constantly wear panic buttons that would alert medical personnel if they have a medical emergency. (You can guess how much Frankie likes that idea.). Grace and Frankie are frightened when their home is robbed.

“Grace and Frankie,” is often laugh-out-loud funny. Yet, now in the Trump era it makes me think of serious matters. “One in six Americans aged 65 and older lives in poverty, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report,” I reported in the Blade in 2014, “the poverty rate is as high or higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual people than for heterosexual people, and lesbian couples, 65 and older, are twice as likely to be poor as straight married couples, according to a 2009 Williams Institute Report.”

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Medicare is privatized or Medicaid or other safety net programs are gutted or eliminated, the situation would worsen for elders, hetero or LGBT under the Trump administration. That’s something that Grace and Frankie, for all their zaniness, wouldn’t find funny.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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