One strength of this show that I have yet to mention is how well it develops its world and characters beyond what we see on screen. In every episode of Grace And Frankie, characters reference past events and stories that have unfolded in the margins, the shenanigans we don’t get to see. Besides often providing humor, these little asides make the series feel more lived in. These characters don’t only exist in the context of the plot. Every reference to a skirmish or an adventure between Grace and Frankie that we’ve never actually seen injects the characters and their relationship with greater dimension and believability. The beginning of “The Other Vibrator” hints at a legal struggle between Frankie and a magicians union, another bizarre notch in Frankie’s “the kooky one” belt. Grace and Frankie have full lives and a friendship full of adventure.
But Frankie’s fork in the road threatens that friendship. On one side, she has Jacob. “He’s my guy,” she tells Bud and Coyote, who quickly refute all the nice things they previously said about Santa Fe, not wanting to lose the safety net of their mother. But on the other side, she has Grace, someone she depends on and who depends on her, someone who was there when her life broke in half, who understood what was happening because her life had broken in half, too. Normally, a big life decision like this is something Frankie would talk out with Grace, but Grace is at her most emotionally shut down, refusing to talk about any of it. She feels like she’s in an impossible situation, unable to tell Frankie to stay or leave without it harming their relationship. The tension that snakes throughout “The Other Vibrator” is palpable, a sharp break in the show’s usual easy, breezy cadence.
Less effective but similarly fraught is the war between Sol and the homophobic protesters rallied against Robert’s theater group. The protesters wave absurd signs that say things like “Keep The Gays Out Of Musicals” and “It’s Guys And Dolls Not Guys And Guys” and “Don’t Want Seven Brides For Seven Brides.” The signage is funny, but overall, this particular subplot just doesn’t fit well with the show’s sense of humor. Sol’s outrage gets played for laughs when he accidentally douses a child with his coffee. Grace And Frankie has found humor in unexpected places before, but the dialogue here is so stilted that the conflict falls weirdly flat. Sol being called a faggot is a big moment that gets undercut by the weak coffee bit. I am interested in Sol and Robert’s apparent differences in how to deal with this kind of hate (Sol fights back, while Robert thinks doing so just gives them power), but that doesn’t get much play in the episode, as Robert doesn’t even find out Sol is the one provoking the protesters until the very end. My guess is we’ll be seeing more of how this pans out, and I hope the plotline gets better, because right now it feels a little contrived.
Amid their personal issues, Grace and Frankie also have to deal with the large corporation trying to rip them off by stealing their product design. Grace tries to go it alone, stubbornly reiterating to Frankie that she needs to get used to doing things on her own. But Frankie of course tags along to the meeting with the company’s lawyers, which gets interrupted by the man in charge, Nick Skolka (“Skullcap,” as Frankie calls him), a charming asshole played by Peter Gallagher. He’s immediately drawn to Grace, who uses that to her advantage. Frankie ruins her attempts to manipulate Nick, jumping in and insisting that they’ll see him in court. The entire scene is great, the chemistry between Gallagher and Jane Fonda cutting through the dialogue. Grace and Frankie want to destigmitize the idea that old people can be sexy, and Grace And Frankie as a show works toward that same goal. The instant connection between Nick and Grace indeed has sexy undertones, even when she’s so clearly manipulating him.
She tells Frankie after that she has had to deal with men like him her whole life, hinting at her past as a high-powered female executive who no doubt had to go toe-to-toe with showy, cocky businessmen like Nick. But their professional fight opens up the personal one yet again, and Frankie’s repeated attempts to get Grace to open up don’t really lead anywhere. Grace And Frankie is determined to go the long way with this storyline, relaying just how difficult the decision is for both characters. It’s not getting wrapped up neatly, because Grace And Frankie is about the messy bits of life, even if it does tackle those messy bits with wit, charm, and zippy fun. But all that gets swept away when Frankie becomes immobile while driving and Grace has to call for help. After an episode full of tension and conflict, “The Other Vibrator” ends on that jarring note.
- A knee-length concert tee is Frankie’s version of formalwear.
- It has been far too long since last recognized one of Grace’s popped collars, so let’s take a moment to celebrate each and every one of her perfectly popped collars.
- “I’m like beach erosion, Grace. I’m happening.”
- “I just ate a bunch of mustard.”
- “Reverse Parent Trap using tactics from The Goonies?”