Grace And Frankie gets stuck when it keeps its eponymous characters too locked within their exaggerated personalities. Grace is uptight, and Frankie is free! They clash and hilarity ensues! It’s a simple formula that can sometimes yield easy laughs, but it isn’t sustainable. For the first few episodes of the series, Grace and Frankie weren’t the most interesting characters, because they were the most static. At the surface level of “The Sex,” Grace and Frankie are still fulfilling those polarized roles. But there’s a subtle role reversal that happens over the course of “The Sex” that sheds new light on the characters and, more importantly, their relationship to one another.

The pair begin the episode in their usual places. Things have been going well between Grace and Guy, and Frankie starts teasing her about sex. Grace remains expectedly buttoned up about the subject, refusing to say the word “clitoris” and trying to change the subject any time Frankie brings up vaginal dryness, orgasms, and her homemade yam lube. But Frankie—for all her talk of being a sexually liberated and intuitive woman—can’t see that her yam man Jacob, one of her top-12 favorite people, has a big ol’ crush on her. Suddenly, the roles flip, and instead of Frankie giving sex advice to Grace, Grace is teaching Frankie the art of flirting.

Frankie tries out Grace’s flirting techniques, resulting in a hilarious bout of fake, forced laughter that Lily Tomlin really nails, but she realizes it isn’t her. So she takes the more Frankie route to flirting by getting high with Jacob. Grace, meanwhile, decides to tell Guy what she wants, not in the bedroom, but during a romantic dance on the porch. In other words, Frankie and Grace learn from each other, but find their own personal ways of doing what the other was pushing them to do. The two women break free of some of their restraints, without losing sight of who they are.

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Bud and Coyote, meanwhile, continue their quest to try to become relevant on the show with a sideplot that feels more like filler than anything else, as Coyote confesses he’s searching for his birth mother. Maybe it’s because June Diane Raphael is more dynamic on screen than Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn combined, but the much smaller story about Brianna clearing out her childhood bedroom is much more absorbing than anything between Bud and Coyote.

Sol’s fear of Brianna is funny enough to sell the storyline alone, but it’s really the dynamic between the two that makes the scenes so fun to watch. Brianna and Sol might be more starkly opposites from one another than even Grace and Frankie, and Raphael and Sam Waterston play up their characters’ sensibilities just enough to make their interactions hilarious. It might not be technically as substantive as Bud and Coyote’s conversations about family and soul searching, but it sure is more watchable.

Coyote’s melodrama just seems so out of place in the world of Grace And Frankie. That’s not to say that this show can’t tackle serious topics like adoption, identity, and substance abuse. The writers deftly handle equally serious issues like loss, loneliness, and fears when it comes to Grace and Frankie. Maybe it’s Embry’s performance that feels out of place or the fact that Coyote’s dialogue is so clunky, but this character just isn’t working yet. Give me more Brianna, please.

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Stray observations:

  • Frankie’s habit of talking to herself is an easy gag, but Tomlin’s delivery and timing always makes it worth it. Her very different inflections on back-to-back repetitions of “oh, he’s a Leo” killed me.
  • “Maybe if you stopped texting your ex husband every time you feel sad or you see a funny looking dog, you’d see that this farmer likes you.” Ouch, Grace. But also, so real.
  • “Your daughter is terrifying. I don’t want to give her any reason to kill me in my sleep.”
  • Even when Grace and Frankie break away from their stocktypes in tiny ways, like when Grace playfully puts her foot closer to Frankie’s fruits, it’s fun.
  • When I was in second grade, my best friend had a Barbie cash register, and I was so jealous because it was the coolest toy ever. Today, while watching this episode, I spotted that Barbie cash register in Brianna’s room. Of course Brianna had a Barbie cash register. Of course.
  • Frankie, get with the yam man. He’s a very handsome yam man.
  • This hat deserves a shoutout:

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