Grace and Frankie and The Kominsky Method Place Senior Citizens Front and Center

Two series now available on Netflix demonstrate that there is a market for shows that appeal to an older audience. And guess what? Younger audiences like these offerings, too. It’s easy to see why. The writing is fantastic and the actors, well, what can you say about Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie, and Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in The Kominsky Method? These are pros at the top of their game. In some ways, everything they have done up until now, all the leading roles they have played, all the awards they have won, has merely helped to prepare them for this moment in time – confronting the challenges of growing older. 

Neither show shies away from dealing in a straightforward manner with the many issues – physical and emotional – that we all face as we age. The writers are smart enough to include a great deal of humor, not to make problems seem insignificant, but to show that a positive attitude goes a long way towards surviving whatever life throws our way.

Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston

Grace and Frankie are not friends, but are often forced to socialize because their husbands (played by the terrific duo of Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen) are partners in a law firm. Unbeknownst to their wives, Sol and Robert have been lovers for 20 years and now want to marry. They make that announcement in a restaurant as the two couples are about to feast on a seafood tower. More food ends up being thrown than consumed. 

Baron Vaughn, Brooklyn Decker, June Diane Raphael, and Ethan Embry

Grace and Frankie are polar opposites. The impeccably dressed and coiffured Grace founded Say Grace, a very successful beauty company which her daughter, Brianna (June Diane Raphael), now runs. Grace’s other daughter, Mallory (Brooklyn Decker), is married to a doctor, has two children and is pregnant with a third. Frankie is an artist who has never made it out of the 60s. She and Sol adopted their two children, Coyote (Ethan Embry), who has been in and out of rehab, and Nwabudike (Baron Vaughn), who works in Sol’s law firm. After the breakups, Grace and Frankie move into a beach house that the two couples jointly own. What begins as a confrontation between two very strong willed women, soon turns into a deep and meaningful friendship as they rely on each other for support. 

Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston

Despite feeling deceived in their marriages, once Grace and Frankie have each other they are able to forgive their husbands, even supporting them through health crises. Particularly poignant is the relationship between Sol and Frankie. They truly love each other,  but Sol’s choice means they can no longer be husband and wife. Watching the four adult children adapt to their parents’ new relationships and living arrangements flips the dynamic, causing the younger family members to assume responsibilities with varying degrees of success.

Peter Gallagher and Jane Fonda

Grace and Frankie date but those relationships come with complications. A long-distance lover (Ernie Hudson) means that Frankie has to make a decision about moving to Santa Fe, leaving Grace. And when Grace begins dating a much younger man (Peter Gallagher), even her steely confidence is tested. Never imbued with maternal instincts, Grace has to face criticism from both of her daughters. And she is left on the sidelines to watch Brianna struggle to keep Say Grace afloat. Both confront medical issues – Grace has a knee replacement and Frankie suffers memory lapses after a stroke.

Fonda and Tomlin have been friends for decades, according to a recent interview in Town & Country magazine. Along with Dolly Parton, they appeared in the1980 hit film, Nine to Five, certainly ahead of its time in terms of women fighting for equality in the workplace. Not only did that film register at the box office, but Fonda and Tomlin discovered that, despite their vastly different beginnings – Fonda from Hollywood and Tomlin from Detroit – they bonded over their social activism. It’s no surprise, then, that the two actors are so convincing as Grace and Frankie, two women whose friendship has created a real bond at a time when that support is so important. The show’s fifth season premiered on January 19, and has been renewed for a sixth season. 

Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas

The Kominsky Method had its launch In November, 2018, and in January, 2019, the show won a Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy, while Douglas won the award for Best Actor. Needless to say, the series has been renewed and should find a long life on Netflix.

Michael Douglas

Like Grace and Frankie, Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) and Norman Newlander (Arkin) are an odd couple. Sandy is an actor, and Norman is his agent. With few parts for aging actors, Sandy runs an acting school, teaching his Kominsky Method. Sandy’s daughter, Mindy (Sarah Baker), runs the business side of the studio, and Sandy begins to date one of the older students in the class, Lisa (Nancy Travis), which leads to complications. The scenes where Sandy works with young actors are particularly engaging and often very funny. After Sandy delivers a passionate speech about acting, a young man interrupts, asking what preparation he should make before auditioning for a shampoo commercial. “Wash your hair,” Sandy says, with a shake of his head. 

Susan Sullivan, Michael Douglas, and Alan Arkin

Sandy and Norman meet frequently for lunch at an iconic Hollywood restaurant with a menu as ancient as the waiters. Sandy has been married and divorced three times, while Norman has been married for many years to the love of his life, Eileen (Susan Sullivan), who is dying of cancer. She’s a grand dame with a sense of humor and on her death bed makes Sandy promise to look after Norman. In reality, Sandy will need Norman as much as Norman needs Sandy.

The responsibility for planning the funeral falls to Sandy and Norman insists he follow Eileen’s specific list of requests. That means having Jay Leno serve as MC (“just make sure he doesn’t go on too long,” Eileen writes), Patti Labelle to sing “Lady Marmalade,” and Barbra Streisand to sing “The Way We Were.” Sandy manages to pull off most of what Eileen wanted, to Norman’s great surprise. If a funeral can be joyous, Eileen’s certainly was, the celebration marred only by the appearance of the Newlander’s 48 year-old daughter, Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein), who has been in and out of rehab and shows up intoxicated.

Danny DeVito and Michael Douglas

Norman is not ready to let go of Eileen, so she frequently appears to talk him through a challenging situation, like whether he should agree to have lunch with Diane (Ann-Margret). Eileen observes that Diane’s husband died 11 years ago and she’s probably lonely. Why not go? she asks him. While Norman grapples with the loss of his wife, Sandy is facing a health crisis. His frequent visits to the bathroom, where his stream mimics the Morse Code, raises concerns not only from his daughter and Lisa, but also from Norman. He visits Norman’s urologist (a hilarious Danny DeVito), and gets the good news and the not so good news – his biopsy was mostly benign, but with a few cancer cells. So, the doctor sums up, Sandy will probably die from something other than prostate cancer. 

What’s truly special about both of these shows is the way they frame friendship and what those bonds mean as people age. Spouses die, other relatives pass away, even sometimes children predecease their parents. What’s left, and what so many cling to, are the friends that fill that needed void, providing support, solace, wisdom, comfort, and, yes, laughs.

Grace and Frankie and The Kominsky Method can both be streamed on Netflix.

Photos courtesy of Netflix
Top: Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda

About Charlene Giannetti (330 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "1Life After You," focusing on the opioid crisis that will be filmed in 2019. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.