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An art show puts Grace And Frankie’s character-driven comedy on display

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Grace And Frankie

"The Art Show"

Season 3 , Episode 1

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Grace And Frankie’s third season jumps into the messy dynamics brought out in the final altercation between its titular characters and their families at the end of season two. Last season, Grace and Frankie were at their most fraught, pulled apart by Grace’s drinking problem. But the death of their dear mutual friend Babe brought them back together again, only to realize that they’re still each other’s greatest allies and advocates: Their ex-husbands and children all take them for granted and underestimate them. So Grace and Frankie were thrust back together again, deciding to turn their unlikely friendship into an unlikely business partnership. The third season opens on this new chapter in their relationship. Grace and Frankie are back and making vibrators for older women.

And that’s all what really makes Grace And Frankie so brilliant: the relationship dynamics. It’s no surprise that sticking Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in a scene together leads to comedy magic. Throw Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen into the mix, and it’s like the show has it too easy when it comes to landing laughs. But whereas the first season sometimes struggled to add depth and complexity to those laughs, season two made huge strides toward character development for the entire cast, justifying everyone’s continued presence in each other’s lives. Grace and Frankie’s hard-to-define friendship became the show’s greatest strength precisely because of its blurred lines. And “The Art Show” digs into the relationship parameters set up at the end of season two while still moving the story forward.

Grace And Frankie makes great use of its low-concept premise. Everything comes down to the characters. “The Art Show” realistically brings all those characters into one space and lets their emotions run the show, unearthing organic comedy in the process. Frankie, still grappling with the Kenny Loggins blow from last season, is overcome with insecurity and anxiety surrounding her art show, where most of the episode unfurls. Grace sees the art show as an opportunity to show their families just how great they’re doing, flaunting the early success of their business venture. In actuality, Grace and Frankie haven’t been able to secure a bank loan to start up Vybrant, because they’re too old for any bank to agree to a long-term loan. As usual, Grace And Frankie is smart and pointed in its depictions of ageism in society.

The art show forces Grace and Frankie to confront Robert and Sol for the first time since their blow-out fight when Frankie found out Sol lied to her about Kenny Loggins and Grace found out Robert’s extravagant gifts through the years were empty gestures aimed at placating her. Despite everyone telling him not to, Sol insists on going to the show. He attempts to say it’s for Frankie, but it’s pretty obvious he’s doing it for himself. Sol’s need to please others is more selfish than selfless; he hates when other people are mad at him. At the art show, that comes through when he says to Jacob he can see all of Frankie’s rage toward him in every brush stroke, adding that she probably put so much yellow in one particular piece because he hates mustard. It’s a silly thing to think, suggesting everything is still about him. Grace And Frankie is so deft at revealing big things about characters in small strokes. And then there’s a twist: Frankie casually reveals she really did add yellow to the painting because Sol hates mustard. So yes, Sol is a little self-centered, but he also knows Frankie on a deep level. That intimacy between them is the reason why neither can really shake the other completely.

Sol’s flaws are inextricable from his more endearing qualities. Character moments like these elevate Grace And Frankie into more than its straightforward premise. The characters are all flawed but also not wholly unlikable. That’s seen too in the fact that Frankie’s a legitimately good artist. It would have been easy for the show to mock the character by making her paintings horrible, but that’s not the kind of show this is. It examines its characters flaws without scorning or dismissing them. Grace And Frankie has a lot of heart, setting it apart from more cynical sitcoms that run on mockery.

While I still think Frankie and Sol’s relationship is the better written of the two, Robert and Grace share a touching, genuine moment in “The Art Show” when Grace overhears two people talking shit about her and Robert steps in to tell them off. Whereas Frankie and Sol share intellectual and emotional intimacy, Robert and Grace moreso share respect for one another, and that makes sense given their more reserved personalities. The conflict between Grace and Frankie and their ex-husbands has evolved since the start of the show. Grace and Frankie are no longer just bitter about being lied to; it’s more complicated and deep-seated than that. “The Art Show” keeps the conflict alive—which is important for the big picture—while allowing for little moments of reconciliation that justify Robert and Sol’s continued presence in the narrative. Storylines that involve all four of the leading actors are always the strongest on the show.

Even the kids stand mostly on their own in the premiere. Brianna has always been the only one of the children to feel truly developed, and she’s still a more significant character than the others in “The Art Show.” She’s the most eager to mend fences after last season’s fallout, but not with her actual mother so much as her mother figure, Frankie. “She’s my ride or die bitch” is one of the many perfect Brianna quotes in the episode, but “The Art Show” positions Brianna as more than just a supplier of one-liners. Her relationship with Frankie is one of the many complicated but beautiful relationships on the show, and her attempts to win Frankie back are as earnest as Sol’s. Coyote also shares one of the more emotional scenes of the episode with Frankie. His insistence to Frankie that she finally became what she always wanted to be when she grew up is a critical moment for Frankie and the show. Grace And Frankie boldly declares you’re never too old to follow your dreams.

The natural flow of the episode is interrupted slightly by a guest appearance from Kenny Loggins, which feels too much like a stunt and is more distracting than funny. But in addition to the strong character dynamics, “The Art Show” is held together by great visual gags, including Brianna’s pity poncho and Frankie’s penis sculptures and outrageous paintings (including her famed Hitler’s Circumcision). Grace and Frankie’s interpersonal conflicts with their families and internal conflicts—Frankie’s self-doubt and Grace’s need to make everyone think she’s doing great—play out against a backdrop of colorful absurdity, adding an extra layer to the humor. It’s not necessarily a standout episode of the series, but bringing all the characters together into a confined space allows Grace And Frankie to recap some of the developments from the end of last season without it feeling too much like a recap. “The Art Show” picks up where season two left off but keeps Grace and Frankie moving forward.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back to TV Club coverage of Grace And Frankie. I love this pure and breezy show, and I look forward to diving into season three!
  • “You’re one of those bankers who hasn’t read Our Bodies, Ourselves!”
  • Grace and Frankie complaining about being perceived as too old as they’re struggling to remember where their car was parked is one of the more predictable setups of the episode, but I must admit I still laughed.
  • The drinking game centered on Bud’s new girlfriend is a very well executed bit. Watching the siblings slowly raise their glasses in unison is even more funny than the outlandish things coming out of the girlfriend’s mouth.
  • I would buy the vampire Grace painting.