No way. I am not going to watch a show about old people. Discount the fact that I adore Lily Tomlin. I remember seeing her one woman Broadway show when I lived in New York thirty years ago and thought it was brilliant. Jane Fonda had me doing donkey kicks in purple leg warmers when I was in college. All I wanted to do was look like her when I grew up (heck, all anyone wanted was to look like her.) Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, two of the finest actors of my lifetime, play the other main characters in Grace and Frankie. Even with this enticing cast, I am not interested. I am confident it is filled with slapstick humor. I don’t love silly. I like funny and sad. I like witty and dark. Grace and Frankie isn’t for me.
Recently we upgraded our cable box and one of the perks of this move was a free six-month subscription to Netflix. I have binge-watched the hell out of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, dabbled in Stranger Things and even devoured a few episodes of You. (Do not watch this if you have a young single daughter living in New York City unless sleeping is not your thing.)
I scrolled through the options and a little square picture of Grace and Frankie stared back at me. Maybe it was a sign. I uttered the title into my new voice activated remote. One episode was all I would do. The plot is revealed in the first five minutes of the first episode. (Spoiler alert.) Grace and Frankie are the wives of two long-time business partners who are total opposites. There is tension between the two women, even after their husbands arrive at the restaurant. The men tell their wives that they are in love with each other and are leaving their conventional marriages of 40 plus years. Not a bad setup, I thought. While I was wary that the show could devolve into stereotypes and bad jokes. I didn’t turn it off. One episode. That would be it.
Four seasons later, I am still watching. I laugh hard. I cry harder. Grace and Frankie, Sol and Robert — as individuals and as a group — fascinate me. There is great conflict within their relationships and between the severed ones, but even greater love. A few stereotypes thrown in, but seem to be overshadowed by a graceful family dysfunction. There is a sense of honor in the way they care for each other in good and bad times. Each character’s personal journey is layered with conflict and growth and each episode presents a lesson in growth that I didn’t know was possible at this later-in-life stage.
I am not saying that the show is perfect or that it doesn’t jump the shark at times. However, I’m looking at the bigger picture. Here are people – older people – dealing with the same issues that my twenty years younger peers are also facing – divorce, loneliness, aging, health issues, making connections, understanding our children and our children understanding us.
And parts of the show scare me. It’s a big fat “what if?” I have lost both parents and suddenly I am the older person. The central age issue of Grace and Frankie stirs up complicated feelings for me about my next act. Will I be alone? Will I have friends? Will I be able to take care of myself? What will my health issues be? Will my kids want to help? (Kids if you are reading this, think hiring an architect to build me an in-law apartment above your future home garage.) So much of this part of my life is unknown. Many argue that we cannot plan for aging, that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow…let alone twenty years from now. But shouldn’t we start thinking about it? God knows I don’t want to see one more wrinkle (damn you Jane Fonda for being ridiculously good looking in your twilight years) or watch my neck fall slowly down into my chest, but that’s not what I am most worried about. It’s about being alone. It’s about not being needed. I don’t have a big family network, and I don’t want to lean on friends or bother my kids constantly, so where does that leave me? Here is what I am really saying — being that old is not that far away.
Grace and Frankie is fiction. Two women happen to co-own a gorgeous beach house where they put their differences aside to become roommates, best friends and eventually caretakers. But in between the Hollywood glam of four award-winning actors with no financial woes, kids who are basically OK and stunning clothes (I love Frankie’s vintage rock and roll t-shirts), there is something that connects their lives to mine. Grown children, complicated relationships, fears about the future, navigating friendships, worry about ailments and their affects on living a full life and learning to let go. These are real issues for my friends and me. In the here. In the now.
I have one more season left. I’m trying not to rush through it. I love how the California light frames every shot. I relish the way Robert looks at Sol and how Frankie can give Grace the kind of hand squeeze only someone who has your back does. They still have a lot of fight left and they refuse to compromise their beliefs. No one is giving up or giving in. If I have learned anything from these four septuagenarians, it’s that life is for the living. And that I can still live young no matter who old I am. Universe, if you are listening, give me several more decades to figure it all out.
Next up, my article about 60 Minutes and Geritol.
Mimi L. Golub is the Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Living the Second Act, an online magazine for women in their 40s and 50s who are seeking the truth. Mimi has written for numerous publications including The Huffington Post. She is the author of the someday-to-be-published novel, Boxed In. Mimi is also the writer and a staff editor of From Our Kitchens, a nonprofit cookbook that was released in 2018. In her spare time, Mimi loves to workout, drink tequila, and volunteer with many local causes. She lives in Newton, MA, with her husband and has twin girls who have left the nest. You can find her former work on: tequilainbed.com