In “The Incubator,” Grace drags Frankie, to an incubator which, to Frankie’s dismay, is not a chicken incubator but rather a tech startup. Parodying the tech startup world is certainly well-trodden territory on television, but Grace And Frankie largely succeeds in making it feel fresh. Frankie and Grace waltz into the wild world of Partner’d, a startup with a DJ in the lobby and an ongoing game of laser tag that everyone in the office participates in throughout the day and a wall covered in bikes. The laser tag bit is especially funny, but it all comes together visually and tonally. The only area where it slips a bit is in their actual pitch meeting with a guy so over-the-top that it crosses a line and takes you out of the moment. Grace And Frankie’s greatest strength is how easy and breezy it feels. The actors and writers aren’t trying too hard. Instead, they all stick to simple, straightforward comedy and story structures, and as a result, everything just feels so organic and natural. The incubator dude briefly disrupts the flow, but then things get back on track.
And going for simple jokes shouldn’t be mistaken for going for the easy jokes. This episode could have easily positioned Grace and Frankie as the oblivious old ladies who are complete fish out of water in this tech startup environment, but that wouldn’t ultimately be true to the characters. Instead, Grace is the only one baffled by her surroundings. Frankie fits right in. She eagerly participates in the laser tag, and her business style is pretty aligned with the young folks at Partner’d. Frankie’s comfort in this environment is as entertaining as Grace’s discomfort.
Even though Grace and Frankie are on the best terms they’ve ever been on, their different personalities still cause some tension. But Grace And Frankie has evolved from just being a show about two different personality types. In “The Incubator,” the main conflict stems from an emotional place much more thorny than a simple difference of personality. Frankie has become much closer with Jacob. In fact, they’re having “sex in the vagina,” which Grace once drunkenly mocked Frankie for being scared of in season two. That outburst remains one of the hardest scenes to watch of the whole series, and “The Incubator” proves that it’s still affecting the characters in the present. Grace And Frankie is a feel-good show more often than not, but it keeps things real, too. These characters aren’t just going to move on. Jacob, in fact, hasn’t moved on at all. He still holds that moment against Grace, and even her apology doesn’t really smooth things over. Grace and Frankie have made their peace over that altercation, but they still run into issues here when Frankie proposes designing condoms for older people, too. Grace wants to stick with the original vibrator plan.
Of course, it isn’t simply a fight about vibrators versus condoms or even about how to run the business. There’s an underlying tension to it all because they’re no longer single together. It’s about what the vibrators and the condoms represent. Grace points out that Frankie probably doesn’t want a vibrator as much anymore because she’s busy having sex with Jacob. She’s clearly happy for Frankie: She playfully scolds her for not telling her about Jacob developments sooner. But she’s lonely, too.
The mere fact that condoms come up on Grace And Frankie is yet another example of the show’s radical depiction of late-in-life relationships and sex. Grace says it best in her pitch at the incubator: People’s bodies change, but their desires don’t. Old people on television usually aren’t portrayed as sexual beings. Or, when they are, it’s played completely for laughs. Grace And Frankie lets its older characters be horny just like anyone else. It’s completely normal for Frankie and Jacob to be using condoms: Old people can have multiple partners and casual sex just like anyone else. Grace And Frankie normalizes these realities on television, and in doing so, it accomplishes two feats at once by making older characters relatable to younger viewers by showing that their dating and sex lives don’t look all that foreign and also providing older viewers with an earnest depiction of what it’s like to be a sexually active person in your seventies.
After getting everyone together in the premiere, “The Incubator” returns to a more spread out narrative. Grace and Frankie dominate most of the episode, as they should. And Robert and Sol get a little subplot of their own. I maintain that storylines that engage all of the characters on the show—especially all four leads—are usually the strongest, but Robert and Sol’s small plotline in this episode works quite well. First of all, it’s damn cute. At Robert’s insistence, they both play hookie from work, calling in sick to stay home and unpack and watch hummingbirds in their new backyard. Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen’s chemistry on the show has improved vastly since the pilot, and they’re great together here, evoking a strong sense of how well these two men know each other and deeply they love each other despite being extremely different. Robert demonstrates the abilities of their new smart house, playing the Pirates Of Penzance soundtrack for himself in the living room and Little Richard for Sol in the study. Their individual dance moves make for a funny bit while also highlighting the differences between them. In a lot of ways, Robert and Sol’s differences mirror the differences between Grace and Frankie. Only in their, case they fell in love.
People loving each other despite innate difference is definitely a thematic throughline for Grace And Frankie, which is full of unlikely but genuine relationships between people whose personalities are seemingly at odds with one another. Brianna has more in common with her mother Grace, but she’s more drawn to Frankie. She’s the one she goes to after her break up with Barry. She tenses and squirms when Frankie locks into in a supportive hug, but despite her discomfort, she loves Frankie and treasures the role she plays in her life…enough to write her a huge check to get Vybrant off the ground. That one scene between Frankie and Brianna accomplishes so much at once: It further develops their bond and especially develops Brianna, revealing a new, vulnerable side of her that comes from an emotionally honest place. It also moves the season’s central storyline forward by providing a solution to Grace and Frankie’s money problems (which also provides a short-term solution to the tension between Grace and Jacob). And it all plays out within the hilarious and weird (yet believable) scenario of Frankie and Brianna meeting on a particular bench that Frankie frequents after it rains in order to watch people fall into puddles. Character work, plot developments, and comedy all work together in the scene with that easy, breezy feel that defines this series.
- Though it isn’t really explicitly stated, it’s pretty clear from Robert and Sol’s conversation about retirement that a big perk of working used to be that it was the only time where they could really be together—back when they were still in the closet. This show has a strong sense of the characters’ past, and that comes through in Robert’s new lack of interest in work.
- Frankie: “We’re getting chickens?!” Grace: “We are not getting chickens. We are never getting chickens.” I love that it’s obvious this is a conversation they’ve had before…probably many times.
- “I like you, you like my dog, we both hate Sharon. Why is that not enough?” Brianna’s breakup with Barry is full of poignant little moments.
- “I also hid all your clogs.”
- Brianna calls her heart a “red blood thing” and also doesn’t know where it is.