While the pilot sets up the initial conflict that drives Grace And Frankie, “The Credit Cards” deals with the immediate consequences of the shifting relationship dynamics. Frankie and Grace’s credit cards become the central conflict, with Sol and Robert cutting their wives off financially, a step Robert has convinced Sol is all just part of the separation process. There are funny moments, almost all of which belong to Lily Tomlin, but overall there’s a sense that Grace And Frankie is holding back in these early episodes, not quite harnessing the full range of comedic abilities of Tomlin and Jane Fonda but also turning up short on the pathos side of things.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the episode’s two best scenes happen between Fonda and Tomlin. The first, at the very beginning of the episode, shows the women trying to make sense of their radically changed lives. “Maybe I’ll wash my hair,” Grace says, and there’s a visceral emotional honesty to that kind of simple thought one has when nothing in the world makes sense. She wants to wash her hair because that’s what people do, she explains. “I don’t feel like a person,” Frankie says, her words cutting through the beach house.
Their second scene is more subtle, relying more on the physicality of Fonda than on the dialogue. Grace can’t wait to get out of Frankie’s house and back to the beach house to spend some time alone. She makes a big show of telling Frankie there’s food in the fridge and that she’ll talk to her later, but when she looks up, she finds Frankie crying while looking at old photos of her and Sol, asking if any of it was real. There’s an immediate change in Grace’s face and movements, even as she continues to try to hurry out and hastily explains to Frankie that they’ll make new memories. She continues on her merry way, but Frankie’s sadness undoubtedly trips Grace up, and Fonda does an excellent job of showing that shift without having to say anything.
Everything that happens in between those scenes, however, feels middling, even when there are great jokes here and there (Frankie has several zingers, but the best has to be: “By the way, you got a box from Zappos. I ran over it.”) Frankie’s friends Amanda (Mary Kay Place) and Jason (Joe Morton) arrive to try to piece the women back together, and Frankie and Grace come face-to-face with their husbands again. Sol and Frankie’s relationship continues to be more compelling—or at least more defined—than Robert and Grace’s.
Sam Waterston delivers another great performance, but I’m not entirely convinced that Sol would really freeze Frankie’s credit card based on what we know about his character so far. That particular character choice reads as a very transparent instance of conflict for the sake of conflict. Presumably, Robert telling him to do so was the main motivation, but their relationship remains loosely defined, a symptom of the fact that the show is called Grace And Frankie. The show isn’t about Robert and Sol, and yet if they’re going to continue to be a driving force for the show’s conflict and narrative, they need to be written as more than just plot devices.
Speaking of non-Grace-and-Frankie characters, the episode does attempt to flesh out the children, but there isn’t quite enough to latch onto yet. June Diane Raphael is consistently funny as the pot-stirring Brianna, but at the moment, she’s only defined by her love of drama, and that isn’t a character trait that comes with much substance. Brooklyn Decker wholly embodies the overextended, pill-popping Mallory, but again, the character still seems like a loose sketch at this point, used more for comedic vignettes than for emotional storytelling.
There’s definitely a sense that Grace And Frankie is trying to mimic the intimate family drama of Transparent, but the writers don’t seem to fully understand what makes Transparent’s characters’ flaws work. Here, Frankie’s son Coyote struggles with alcoholism and tries to reconcile past wrongdoings with Mallory, but it’s all just barebones character work that doesn’t quite get to the heart of the problem and just leads to a bunch of people standing around and talking about their issues instead of feeling and convincingly conveying the emotional consequences of them. A believable series of events forces Frankie’s sons and Grace’s daughters to all converge in the same physical space, but there’s never any payoff that comes of it in terms of advancing the story, developing the characters, or just providing some emotion. On top of that, there aren’t even many jokes to come from their scenes together, with only Raphael getting any humorous dialogue. Right now, the children just seem like a distraction from the relationship we’re really here to see.
- “Just because we’re out now doesn’t mean we’re gonna be gay with a vengeance.” No one take the band name Gay With A Vengeance. I call dibs!
- “I think everyone is gay.” Same, Jason.
- Tomlin’s reading of “I reject your presence here. You are invisible to me” is marvelous.
- Grace knows Rihanna?!
- Brianna thinks the emoji with heart eyes is a real way to express love, and I agree.
- Geoff Stults sighting! He doesn’t do much here, but his face is always welcome!