Too often on sitcoms, characters move on from conflicts too easily for the sake of moving the story forward. The most believable and relatable sitcom conflicts are ones that have long-term consequences for the characters, but that kind of drama can be hard to sell in the framework of a sitcom, where conflicts tend to wrap up by episode’s end. The Netflix model allows for more serialization and longer arcs, and Grace And Frankie has used that structure to craft really relatable conflict. One of my favorite examples is how Grace spent multiple episodes worrying about whether or not Frankie overheard her at the funeral. There’s a sense that when one character says or does something to another on this show, they don’t forget about it any time soon. “The Secrets,” however, seems to suffer from some short-term memory loss problems, casting aside some recent character work for the sake of creating some cheap drama.
Technically, there are some serialized aspects of “The Secrets.” Byron the ex-con returns for a goodbye kiss from Grace, who indulges despite the fact that things have been getting serious with Guy. Brianna continues to date Barry from accounting. Sol and Robert and busy getting ready for the wedding. But emotionally, “The Secrets” seems so disconnected from the trajectory Grace And Frankie has been on recently. Most notably, Frankie seems to have forgotten about her most recent conversation with Sol about boundaries. It makes sense that moving on will take time, but Frankie immediately calls up Sol after Grace tells her about kissing Byron, gabbing with him as if he’s her best friend again. There’s no mention of their boundaries conversation, and Frankie never even realizes during the episode that her instant need to tell Sol marks a regression in the progress she made at the end of “The Invitation.” Grace makes a few remarks about Frankie’s co-dependence on Sol, but it’s all territory we’ve already covered, and it sort of seems like the only real reason Frankie calls Sol in the episode is to spark drama between Grace and Frankie.
One good bit of character work to come out of “The Secrets” is the fact that Grace gets to be the wronged party for once. I just wrote in my review of “The Elevator” that Grace can sometimes come off as the villain in this relationship, and that has occasionally made the Grace and Frankie dynamic feel a little one-note. In “The Secrets,” however, Grace finally opens up to Frankie, which is a huge step for the character. Frankie pours some tea, and Grace spills about her initial kiss with Byron. It’s a cute moment of friendship, one that again reiterates that Grace and Frankie have a relationship that’s very relatable regardless of age. They talk to each other the same way I talk to a lot of my friends, and that’s a lot more realistic than most on-screen depictions of older women. But Frankie betrays Grace’s trust by telling Sol, who then tells Robert, who then circles all the way back to Grace. As a private person, she’s hurt that Frankie would put her secrets out there, and Frankie and Grace are back to not really being friends again. While that step back comes about in a slightly clumsy way, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see that Grace’s tendency to be withholding isn’t the only problem in her relationship with Frankie.
And then Guy conveniently overhears Frankie giving a precise retelling of Grace’s secret. Of course. Characters in sitcoms have a knack for overhearing the exact thing no one wanted them to hear. It seems odd to criticize using conventional sitcom tropes when I so recently praised the trope-filled “The Elevator,” but unlike last episode, “The Secrets” leans into typical sitcom devices with little payoff. For the first time in several episodes, Grace And Frankie’s conflict just feels too convenient, too contrived.
And even more overwrought than Guy’s convenient timing is the tension between Sol and Robert here. Grace’s infidelities get Sol thinking about rules and relationships, and it all leads to him discovering that Robert slept with someone else when they were broken up years before. That someone else is, conveniently, one of the potential caterers for the wedding, whose appetizers Robert and Sol are sampling at the very same time as all of this is coming to light. Sure. Fine. I can accept the convenience of that little twist. La Jolla is a small town, and as Robert and Sol said, they only know about five other gay men. But ultimately, there wasn’t really any point to having “the other guy” in the room with them. It leads to a conversation about defying conventions and heteronormativity that, again, sounds like a lot of talk but with little by way of emotional stakes to back it all up. Whenever Grace And Frankie tries to touch on queerness, it comes off as clumsy and prescribed.
Plus, I could never really get invested in this fight between Robert and Sol, because I struggled to understand why the fight was happening in the first place. Sol’s over-the-top reaction to finding out Robert had been with another man while they were not even together just doesn’t follow what we know about Sol. Again, “The Secrets” just throws away important character work for the sake of conflict.
- “It’s totally fine. I’m not damaged…by that.” BRIANNA.
- I love Bud and Coyote as Brianna’s annoying surrogate brothers. I also love that Brianna seems to love it, too. When she hands her heels to Barry and takes off after them, I lost it. If you guys couldn’t tell, I really love Brianna.
- Frankie has a sex tape with Sol from the 80s, and they’re both in Gladiator costumes in it. Frankie and Sol were the perfect couple—until they weren’t.