Grace and Frankie sold out Grace and Frankie during the final three episodes of Season Four, which landed on Netflix last Friday, and it’s an important thing but not the only thing and we’ll get there. First we have to talk about how Season Three’s lesbian rom-com ended, the one where Grace begged Frankie not to move to Santa Fe with her boyfriend but to stay and live with her forever and ever and ever, and they held hands and floated above the world in a hot air balloon. Well, Frankie did move to Santa Fe, but when she comes home at the start of the new season for a baby shower, her jealousy over Grace’s new roommate (Lisa Kudrow basically playing Phoebe Buffay as Paulette from Legally Blonde) just proves all over again that Grace and Frankie are in love.
And actually, that’s the theme of Season Four: How much do Grace and Frankie really love each other? How far will they go for each other? What will they give up for each other? The answer is their own autonomy, but the road there is full of all the classic hijinks and pathos and unblinking realities of aging we’ve come to expect and adore from this show.
Season Four finds Grace navigating her relationship with a younger man, the billionaire Nick, whom she pushes away and pushes away and finally bares her soul (and makeup-free face) to. And it finds Frankie navigating Bud’s girlfriends’ pregnancy and a mix-up at the Social Security Administration that has left her dead on-paper. For the first time, though, Grace and Frankie don’t find themselves navigating their relationship. They’re no longer an odd couple forced together by heartbreak and betrayal. They’re two women who’ve chosen each other again and again. They know exactly who they are together and who they are to each other, and so do their kids and friends and boyfriends and ex-husbands.
And look, I know they’re not gay, but that doesn’t matter to me.
I was six years old in 1985 when The Golden Girls premiered and it immediately became my favorite TV show. It was still my favorite show 180 episodes later when it ended, in 1992. It bamboozled my parents and grandparents the way I camped out in front of the TV every Friday night to watch it, singing along to the theme song and reciting the lines from memory during reruns. I was a little kid, and a sheltered one: There’s no way I got the bawdy jokes and innuendo. There’s no way I understood the cultural significance of the Very Special Episodes. But that’s not why I clung to every scene. I watched The Golden Girls because it was the only fairy tale that made sense to me. I didn’t have a language for who I was or what I wanted when I was a kid. No happily ever after I’d ever heard of stuck inside my bones. But then there were Blanche and Sophia and Dorothy and Rose, living together and taking care of each other, into their twilight years, with no husbands.
Grace and Frankie is the only show to ever rightfully be compared to The Golden Girls, and The Golden Girls is the only show Grace and Frankie gets compared to. I watched The Golden Girls drinking chocolate milk. I watch Grace and Frankie wearing little collagen eye masks. I’ve lived half a life between these shows. Half a life between wondering if I could grow up and old without a husband, with a woman by my side; and actually doing it.
Women continue to be woefully underrepresented on TV, and older women are practically non-existent. So no, I don’t care if Grace and Frankie are gay. They’re the loves of each other’s lives and that’s enough.
Also almost enough, finally: Brianna’s storylines this season. June Diane Raphael always shines but she is incandescent as Brianna Hanson, and the show has never used her to her full potential until this year. She’s got her own career storyline, her own romance storyline, and she continues to ping-pong sardonically through her relationships with every parent (and parental figure) in the Bergstein-Hanson family. She makes every episode even better.
One of my favorite things about Grace and Frankie continues to be the way it handles aging, and the roles pride and dignity and self-perception play in dealing with bodies as they get older. This season it’s Grace’s knees, one of which gives out during a caper at Lisa Kudrow’s dead husband’s house. She tries to hide it from everyone except Frankie, which results in a her getting high on pain meds at Home Depot and smashing into a police car on a stolen scooter. (And ultimately a knee replacement and a cane.) But this is also where the show betrays its characters this year. Grace and Frankie’s actions and their reactions to the realities of aging have always been played as heightened antics inside a sitcom world, and their responses to their physical ailments — like lying together on the floor all day last season when they threw out their backs at the same time — have always been treated as fictional tomfoolery loosely anchored in reality. In the last few episodes of Season Four, though, Mallory and Coyote and Brianna and Bud use the facts that Frankie followed and ice cream truck to Mexico and Grace wrecked a scooter, and the fact that Grace acted out of character in a moment of mournful nostalgia and got scammed by some contractors to manipulate them into going into a retirement community.
Sure, the central theme of the show is there: the only reason either of them agree to go is for the other one, but it’s a cheap sell-out of the comedic rules the show spent four seasons establishing. It’s particularly egregious when juxtaposed with Sol and Robert’s storylines which coalesce in a cliffhanger about whether or not they’re going to have a threesome with a younger man who’s been flirting with them. The two men spend the season going on cruises and doing community theater and contemplating an open relationship, without a single bit of hand-wringing from their kids.
Season Four ends on a somber but hopeful note with a much more successful stolen scooter escapade than Grace’s mid-season crash, and the last few episodes certainly don’t ruin the whole season. It’s sweet and it’s funnier than ever and triumphs abound for Grace and Frankie. Most importantly, though, even with the lazy last story arc, they end as they always do: holding hands, facing the world together.