Grace and Frankie: A Gay Old Time

grace and frankie

I know it’s been going on for a few years now, but I’m still not sure I’m totally on board with the whole streaming services offering each season of their shows in one big chunk. I mean, on the one hand I do love binge watching. I had a good bit of free time this past week, not to mention it’s just too hot (seriously, record temperatures here in Seattle) to do anything, so I managed to watch the first season of both Bloodline and Grace and Frankie in the span of about four days. But on the other hand, I’m now saturated in both shows. I’m in it, you know, I’m invested. And now I have to wait almost a year before there’s more. That’s just such a long time to wait after having such a short burst of investment. I like both shows, sure, but am I going to care all that much in a years’ time? This worked out for me when it comes to Orange is the New Black. I got excited for both Season Two and Three when they came around. On the other hand, I haven’t watched past Season One of House of Cards. So I guess we’ll see…

In the meantime, while I’m still in my Grace and Frankie saturation bubble, let’s talk about what I loved most about this new show.

Grace and Frankie tells the story of two women in their seventies, who have both been married for 40+ years, who find out their husbands have been having an affair for the past twenty years and, now that it’s legal, want to leave their respective wives and marry each other. At the start of the series, Grace and Frankie don’t like each other much and barely get along – Grace is a high maintenance, type-A career woman while Frankie is a free-flowing, spiritual hippie who teaches art to ex-cons – but as the series continues they lean on each other for support and commiseration as they try to navigate the murky waters they’ve found themselves in. And these are some murky waters. The homosexual aspect of Robert and Sol’s affair makes their situation so much more gray than a straight affair. And I appreciate that the show deals with just how gray it is. Grace and Frankie don’t know how they’re supposed to react, how they’re supposed to feel. Do they have to support their husbands in coming to terms with their true identity? Can they just feel angry and hurt at being betrayed in such a way by the men who had vowed to love them? Should it be more of a combination of both?

It’s funny, this is always an issue I think about whenever I go back and rewatch Friends again (something I’m doing currently), especially the oldest seasons. It’s kind of become a popular opinion to think of Ross Geller as the worst human being alive, and a lot of that comes from his ideas of masculinity, but also it seems to come from the way he deals with Carol and Susan. Especially Susan. And to be honest, I think Ross gets a lot of unnecessary flak for his antagonistic relationship with Susan. I mean, in the very second episode, Carol announces that she’s pregnant. She’s only just in the first trimester, I’m guessing 8 weeks along at the most. And so, 8 weeks ago she was still into her marriage enough to be sleeping with her husband, and yet now she and Susan are already in such a committed place that Susan not only wants to raise the baby with Carol, but claims to be a parent on equal footing with Ross. If Susan had been a man, there’s no way he would have been fighting for his name to be in there like Susan does. No way he’d be saying he’s just as much a father as Ross. No way that would have been accepted. Carol and Man-Susan would have been vilified for the affair they carried on behind Ross’ back, Carol being known only as Ross’ evil ex-wife. And Ross wouldn’t be expected to be in any way polite or civil or friendly towards them. And yet, because they’re lesbains, Ross is supposed to be understanding. He is supposed to cede some of his parental rights over to Susan. He’s supposed to be forgiving and open minded and compassionate. His friends don’t understand why he doesn’t want to go to Carol and Susan’s wedding, as if leaving him for a woman instead of a man hurt Ross any less. I always feel like his hurt and his heartbreak is forgotten in everyone else’s haste to support the lesbians.

So I appreciate that Robert and Sol don’t get unconditional support from their children. That during that first dinner Bud stands up and says that they wouldn’t be sitting down to cake together and celebrating their fathers’ new relationships if they’d been cheating with women, and so why should them being gay let them off the hook for betraying their wives? Ultimately, their four children want their parents to be happy. The kids fall in line pretty quickly in supporting their fathers, even going so far as to throw their bachelor party, but they take the time to remind Robert and Sol that they still hurt their mothers.

Look, I’m very supportive of being who you are. Of figuring that out and reveling in it. Robert and Sol deserves to love who they want to love, and to be with that person, openly and happily. Carol and Susan do, too. It’s tough when you’ve been brought up to think of yourself one way and you figure out something else a little too late. And so I feel for Sol and Robert, and the struggle they’ve gone through; the struggle to make sense of who they are and what they want and how their lives are not measuring up. I feel for people like them who’ve hid their true selves out of fear or disgust. But the fact that they’ve struggled with these things doesn’t absolve them from the hurt they’ve put on their wives. This doesn’t make them villains by any means, but they are responsible for some hurt.

And so what the show does so well is put the story on Frankie and Grace and not so much on Robert and Sol. Frankie and Grace are given the opportunity to feel anything and everything. It’s okay for them to be both supportive and heartbroken. Compassionate and full of rage. Grace can move on from Robert and find the love she was missing from her marriage and Frankie can wallow in the loss of a man she was truly in love with. Grace is allowed to become icy and Frankie is allowed to delude herself that there’s hope for all not to be lost. Neither will ever be shamed into a bland suppression of their wounds and LGBT support.

And I appreciate that it’s not nearly so simple for Robert and Sol either. That Sol is wracked with guilt over hurting Frankie. That he struggles with setting boundaries with her because while he may have figured out he’s gay, that doesn’t erase her as his companion for the last 40 years. Wanting to be married to Robert isn’t the same thing as wanting Frankie out of his life. And even Robert, whose relationship with Grace was much more strained, suffers. After calling out Sol for embarrassing him by not acting “appropriately” at a colleague’s funeral, Robert breaks down in tears, missing his own wife who would have known just what to do in the situation.

We’re only 13 episodes in, so there’s still a lot of surface we’re still shifting away from. At this point, maybe there’s not a ton of depth when it comes to Robert and Sol’s relationship or the lives of any of the kids. Though, to be honest, as shallow as we still are I’m already attached to three out of the four kids (Mallory could do with a bit more personality). But the real depth comes from Frankie and Grace and their odd-couple relationship: two women who don’t particularly like each other finding solace in each other anyway. Their friendship is difficult. They don’t have the same values, don’t have the same habits, don’t have the same ideals. But they’re going through something together, and they’re making a pointed effort to be there for each other. Hopefully, by the time Season Two is released, I’m still invested.

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