With Frankie’s yam business gathering steam, Grace wants a project of her own. When dropping off her old business clothes for donation, she ends up enlisting in a mentorship program that offers guidance and support to women seeking employment. It’s the perfect job for Grace, who has been a businesswoman for her entire life and has plenty of wisdom to impart. But this particular Grace And Frankie storyline never gets off the ground, dabbles too much in platitudes, and ultimately falls short of the kind of rich emotional storytelling the show has largely excelled at in this second season.
Look, it’s a story I’ve seen many times before: A rich white woman helps out someone less privileged and learns something about herself in the process. At least here, the storyline doesn’t drip too heavily with the kind of blatant white saviorism of movies like The Blind Side and Boyhood, but there is a certain self-righteousness to Grace’s willingness to mentor that the episode never really investigates. Billie (played by Briana Venskus) is really just a plot device. Her characterization consists of a bunch of clichés and exaggeration. The extent to which she’s bad at interviewing is simple too over-the-top, played for laughs and yet not even that funny. But Billie isn’t there to feel like a fully realized character. She’s not really there to land laughs either. She’s simply there to advance Grace’s arc, to make Grace realize that she wants to buckle down and get back to work again. The mentee becomes the mentor. It’s trite and predictable and doesn’t even make up for either of those qualities by being funny or exploring the nuances of the relationship between Grace and Billie. Even the fact that Billie turns out to be quite smart and a damn good bartender just plays into the story’s banality. It’s an attempt to make it seem like there’s more than meets the eye to Billie, but it’s executed sloppily. I do hope we see the character again and that I’m somewhat wrong about the writers just disposing her after she has served her purpose in Grace’s life, but we shall see.
There’s more depth and complexity to Frankie’s internal struggles about her feelings for Jacob. “The Chicken” pushes her into a really difficult emotional place. She does like Jacob. But she isn’t ready for a relationship. Her frustration and confusion cogently comes through in the episode, thanks to strong writing and a dependably layered performance from Lily Tomlin. Joe Morton and Mary Kay Place return as Jason and Amanda, Frankie’s single friends who have plenty of useful advice to offer about the situation. Okay, so their advice is actually pretty simple: They tell her Jacob wants to have sex with her. One thing Grace And Frankie has consistently done well is the way it allows its characters—who are all well over 60—to have full and varied sex lives. Whenever the show does make jokes about aging, it comes from a smart and realistic place instead of just being at the expense of the characters. The show doesn’t present old people having sex as gross or weird or even rare. Frankie’s lunch with Amanda and Jason really plays out the same way it would on a show about millennials trying to date and figure out confusing relationships.
Brianna gets a light but sweet subplot with Barry from Accounting, who she’s still sleeping with. The little detail that Frankie can see plainly that Brianna and Barry are into each other but can’t apply that same intuition to her own flirtations with Jacob is really nice. But beyond just the small overlap between the two stories, Brianna and Barry bring some much needed levity to the episode. The choice to have Brianna agree, almost immediately, to going public with their relationship instead of milking it for conflict works because it’s unexpected and yet comes from a real emotional place.
Throughout the episode, Robert’s stuck in a storyline that initially just seems like filler. Sol isn’t even around. Robert pays Coyote off to keep Sol occupied, and Mallory shows up via Skype to teach Robert how to roast a chicken and recommend a tailor to take in his suit. It’s all just everyday stuff that doesn’t really seem to mean anything…until it does. The seemingly mundane process Robert slogs through for most of the episode turns out to all be in the name of romance. The jacket he had tailored to fit was the jacket he wore the first time Sol said he loved him. The meal he spent all day preparing under Mallory’s watchful eye was for a shabbat dinner. He even learns the proper Hebrew prayers. Suddenly, his day makes sense, is given deeper meaning. But it doesn’t stop there. The decidedly undramatic events of his day are sharply juxtaposed with the day’s conclusion, when Sol finally tells Robert about sleeping with Frankie. I knew this moment was coming, but it ends up coming at the exact right time. While the writing around Robert and Sol’s relationship has been uneven throughout the series, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston’s performances have not. They bring a lot of specificity and depth to these characters, and they nail the final scene. There’s no overt dramatic build up to the confession in the episode, so it hits all the harder, knocking the wind out of Robert and ending the episode abruptly on a quiet but explosive emotional climax.
- Frankie, on how she could tell Brianna and Barry are fucking: “I’m an intuitive witch!”
- “Alcoholism isn’t funny” is a pretty weird line to have delivered by a character whose love of martinis is often played for laughs, especially in an episode where her love of martinis is played for laughs. I know I brought this up two reviews ago, but is season two gearing up to address Grace’s drinking head-on? I ask this rhetorically since I’m not watching ahead so as not to affect the reviews, but if you want to discuss future episodes in the comments, just make sure you include spoiler warnings.
- Brianna, announcing her relationship: “Hey, you guys! Barry from Accounting and I are doing it! On the regs! And if you have a problem with that, Cindy, you’re fired! And also, thank you for telling me my bra was showing yesterday. You’re fired for that, too.”
- Frankie, when Grace asks how she looks: “Like a docent at a hairspray museum.”
- The editing in the scene where Frankie meets with Amanda and Jason really adds to the humor. Their reactions when Frankie says “feelings” are particularly great.
- Jacob, after Frankie kisses him: “Did you just stop your own ramble…by kissing me?”
- Everything about Jacob’s spread looked impeccable, but especially that jalapeño cornbread: