Season one of Grace And Frankie was really focused on developing the complex relationship dynamics between Grace and Frankie. At first, the two polar opposites were at constantly at odds, and the season milked their tension for all its comedic worth. After a while, it became slightly tedious, especially because their eventual friendship seemed so inevitable. There isn’t really anywhere to go with two characters who simply hate each other—at least not when you’re trying to do a comedy with multiple seasons and when those two characters are at the center of it all. Comedy needs conflict, but there’s only so much the show could get out of Grace and Frankie’s back-and-forth arguments. We get it. They’re different.

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Now, Grace and Frankie are embracing those differences, and Grace & Frankie is, too. Season two picks up exactly where things ended last season, but right away, the show capitalizes on all the careful character work done in the second half of season one. At the start of season two, Grace and Frankie are already friends. Season one had to put a lot of work into making the transformation that happens between these two seem believable and grounded. Season two already feels more lived in. Grace and Frankie’s relationship has become more clearly defined, more complex. Sure, they still are two very different people. Grace insists that Frankie wash the sand off her feet before going back into the beach house, and Frankie doesn’t see the point when they have much more significant messes to deal with. She obliges, but she uses baby powder to get it off instead of the hose because of the draught.

And it isn’t just their behavior that’s different, but their emotions, too. One of the things I’ve liked about the show since the beginning has been the juxtaposition between Grace’s relationship with Robert and Frankie’s relationship with Sol. Both Grace and Frankie are mad and hurt when Robert and Sol first break the news of their affair, and they’re still mad and hurt about it a year later. But they’ve dealt with it in really different ways, especially because of their discernibly different marriages. Sol and Frankie considered each other soulmates. They loved each other deeply, were best friends with an intense emotional connection for all 40 years of their marriage. Those deep-rooted feelings surfaced during the first season finale, when they slept together in the home they used to share. That came from a very genuine place and didn’t seem like conflict just for the sake of conflict. In the season premiere, they deal with the direct aftermath of their actions, which only becomes more complicated when Robert suffers a heart attack.

Grace and Robert had a much different marriage. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they didn’t truly love each other, but they certainly didn’t confide in each other or emotionally rely on each other in the same way Frankie and Sol did—and still do. The Grace And Frankie writers are really great at playing with little nuances like that, especially when it comes to relationships. Grace and Frankie’s differences become most interesting when they inform the characters’ emotions. Frankie had much more difficulty cutting Sol out of her life than Grace did with Robert at first. She has a personalized ringtone for him that’s just her saying “don’t enable him.”

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After the dramatic events of the season-two premiere, Grace and Frankie have switched places a bit. Frankie’s wounds are reopened again when Sol says he made a stupid mistake by sleeping with her. “This was the fuck up?” Frankie throws back at him. He cheated on her for 20 years behind her back. To her, that’s a far worse crime than having a one-time hookup with the woman he was married to for 40 years. They’re both coming from honest emotional places here. Sol is right to regret what he did, to feel guilty about lying to his husband-to-be who’s facing heart surgery. Frankie’s every bit as right to feel what she feels, to be bitter and hurt about being once more cast aside. The fallout of their hookup makes her all the more determined to cut Sol out of her life. Grace, meanwhile, starts doing everything she can to make Robert happy. When Robert says he wants to marry Sol in the hospital before his surgery, she makes sure it happens, dragging Frankie into her plan to throw them the perfect last-minute wedding. Now she’s the one who finds herself a little too invested in her ex-husband’s life and feelings.

Grace And Frankie really thrives when it comes to emotional, character-driven storytelling. All of the characters have different, complicated feelings about Robert’s heart attack, and they’re all various combinations of selfless and selfish. Sol doesn’t want to marry Robert, because he feels too guilty about what he did. But Grace eventually convinces him it’s the right thing to do. Even her support for Robert and Sol’s marriage comes from a somewhat selfish place. She too feels guilty, because of what she said when Robert first told her about the affair. She said it would have been easier if he died, and here he is, facing potentially life-threatening surgery. Grace doesn’t want him to die. But she even admits to him that one of the reasons she doesn’t want him to die is because she still hasn’t said all the things she wants to say to him yet. Grace cares about Robert. Frankie cares about Sol. Grace and Frankie care about each other. But it’s more complex than that, and Grace And Frankie illuminates that complexity, making the characters’ motivations multidimensional.

The writers have such a strong command of these characters and who they are. At first, I thought it was entirely unbelievable that the kids would somehow be pulled into the Frankie/Sol mess, but then I thought about it some more and realized that Frankie is the kind of person who would overshare with her kids and Grace’s kids about something even as deeply personal as this. And it doesn’t just have to do with who she is but how she feels about these particular circumstances. Frankie doesn’t really seem to think she did anything all that wrong—or that Sol did either, for that matter. She tells the kids, because to her, it wasn’t this huge fuck up. She sees it as just acting on her feelings. She sees their sleeping together as the closure they needed. It also seems crazy that Frankie would ever agree to officiate Sol and Robert’s wedding given how angry she is with Sol, but the writers also manage to make that come about organically and honestly. Grace asks Frankie how she did it, and Frankie says she pushed down her feelings and built a stone wall around them. “Basically, I channeled you.” On a comedy like Grace And Frankie that relies on the a dysfunctional duo, eventually the characters will start to learn from each other. In the season two premiere, the writers found a cogent way for Frankie to quite literally become Grace—just for a moment. It works very well.

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Robert’s heart attack forces all of the show’s main characters into close quarters and allows the writers to re-establish the relationships while also pushing them into slightly new directions. The doctors and orderlies who walk into the situation are rightfully confused by who everyone is to each other. Grace and Frankie both have lines that underscore just how odd their circumstances are. Frankie eventually officiates the wedding—after a Catholic priest refuses to do so on the grounds that they’re gay and a Jewish rabbi refuses to do on the grounds that they’re interfaith—and remarks that it’s both infuriating and beautiful that they’ve gathered to witness the joining of her ex-husband and her ex-husband. But the premiere thankfully doesn’t dwell too long on the surface-level peculiarities of the situation, dealing more thoroughly with the emotional nuances. Everyone’s flaws come bubbling to the surface, but there’s some goodness in there, too. Robert and Sol’s love for each other is so bright and sublime. Of course, their steadfast love only gives even more weight to Sol’s betrayal.

The children are thrown into the mix, too, and their presence in the season premiere reinforces just how wonderful Brianna and Mallory (emphasis on the Brianna) are and just how flat Coyote and Bud are. That doesn’t seem to have changed much between seasons. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that June Diane Raphael and Brooklyn Decker are simply more compelling—and funny—actors than Baron Vaughn and Ethan Embry. Raphael steals nearly every scene she’s in and always owns the most laugh-out-loud moments. She’s really the only other member of the cast that seems to be on the same comedic level as Lily Tomlin. The premiere plants a few little story seeds for the kids that build on some of last season’s developments. Mallory’s pregnant with twins. Coyote’s sobriety is still very fragile. Brianna’s quite possibly falling for Barry (and she wore a leather dress for their date, which isn’t really a crucial detail to the story, but it seems worth mentioning).

But as the show’s title makes plainly clear, it’s really all about Grace and Frankie. And both characters are heading down new paths in season two. Frankie vows to rediscover herself, to redefine who she is now that Sol’s not around. Forty years of marriage is a long-ass time. Even for someone as independent and free-spirited as Frankie, it makes sense that she’s not really sure who she is without him. But the events of last season’s finale do seem to mark closure for her and Sol. He’ll never be fully out of her life given the kids and given the not-so-ideal circumstances of Robert’s health and how that has pulled Grace in, but she’s charging forward. And Grace seems to be putting up fewer walls, chiseling away at the stone wall around her feelings little by little. Her one-on-one conversation with Robert before his surgery is the most emotionally honest she has been with him ever. And Jane Fonda slays every second of it. Now let the Grace and Frankie friendship games truly begin.

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Stray observations

  • Welcome back, show! This is the only show that I cover that my grandparents watch, so it’s pretty special to me.
  • Grace, on chin hairs: “If you see something, say something.”
  • Frankie, trying to remember Phil’s name: “Bill! Will! Gill! Allen!”
  • The supposition that Brooklyn Decker would ever be considered fat is insane, but Brianna’s response is perfect: “Did my mother just call my sister fat? Aside from my father almost dying, this is the best day of my life.”
  • Frankie doesn’t even need to tell Grace her coffee order (coffee with ice cream in it), because Grace already knows. I love how close they’re getting. Evidence of their friendship that’s a little more serious than coffee orders is there, too. The last thing Frankie wants to do is see Sol when the episode begins, but the second Grace tells her Robert had a heart attack, she’s like let’s go. They’re there for each other.
  • “There’s a sick WASP upstairs that needs to marry the Jewish one!”
  • Brianna and Mallory grabbing hands before first entering the hospital room is a nice little subtle but real moment. I really love their sister dynamic.
  • Brianna, upon learning that Frankie and Sol slept together: “Heterosexually?”

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