Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Grace And Frankie: “The Funeral”

Illustration for article titled Grace And Frankie: “The Funeral”

Despite its title, we haven’t spent a whole lot of time with Grace and Frankie together on Grace And Frankie. Every episode has some scenes that let Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play off one another, but the writing sometimes gets distracted by trying to paint a larger picture with the children and the husbands, who remain the show’s greatest weak spot. “The Funeral” finally places Grace and Frankie in the same place and story, as the two have to attend the funeral of Larry, the friend who got both Sol and Robert their jobs at the law firm. So it’s also the first time the women have to face their husbands in public, and it all culminates in an awkward and slicing experience for everyone.

“The Funeral” is Grace And Frankie’s most dramatic episode yet, which can feel awkward since it’s still framed somewhat like a sitcom episode. But I’m glad, and surprised, that the writers didn’t try to push the tension too far into zany funeral mishaps territory. There’s a lot of really understated character work with Frankie and Grace here, starting with Frankie’s stalling before the funeral and building to the end, when the women leave, defeated but together. Throughout the funeral, Grace and Frankie feel anxiety, anguish, and anger, and Tomlin and Fonda flex their acting skills, bringing these women and their pain to life, even as the writing only seems to scratch the surface of the conflict.

But because of the understated nature of “The Funeral,” the episode comes up short on jokes. The only laugh-out-loud moment comes from Frankie, who walks up to a group of gossiping women and says, plainly: “Hi, do any of you bitches have some gum?” But the comedy comes more from Tomlin’s delivery than the actual writing. Tomlin, in fact, makes a lot of lines work that shouldn’t, elevating lazy jokes into little treats. But it seems that each episode of Grace And Frankie either chooses between using Fonda and Tomlin’s dramatic abilities and their comedy or never quite figures out how to blend it all together into a thoughtful, emotionally driven comedy. There’s a sense that the material just doesn’t quite live up to the superstars’ multifaceted abilities, making trade offs that cause the show’s identity crisis.

The rest of the episode’s conflict comes from Robert and Sol trying to decide how to refer to one another, and again it just doesn’t seem like the writers are capable, or even all that invested in, writing queer narratives with any semblance of honesty or authenticity. After throwing out boyfriend (too age inappropriate), long-time companion (too formal), and soulmate (“I don’t even like that one when straight people use it”), Sol and Robert fumble through their explanations of their new relationship to the other funeralgoers. A nervous Sol rambles something about “homosexual law and bed partners,” which is presumably intended to be funny but just sounds like a very outdated joke.

Robert has the very real realization that coming out isn’t really a literal process that one can go through in a single day. “I’m never not going to come out, am I?” he says to his sister Lydia (Christine Lahti). It’s a complex and genuine feeling, but one that doesn’t really feel earned in the context of this episode and the character development that has—or, more accurately, hasn’t—been done with either Robert or Sol. Grace And Frankie shows improvement in its handling of queer characters over Marta Kauffman’s previous work on Friends, but that’s a very low bar to meet, and if Robert and Sol are going to be such a big part of the story, queerness needs to be more than just a little character detail.

“The Funeral,” at least, finally acknowledges that things aren’t just going to be smooth sailing for Robert and Sol now that they’re out. Already, they’re starting to notice changes now that they’re spending more time together and engaged in a public relationship instead of just a secret affair. There are some endearing, if transparent, parallels between the dysfunction between Grace and Frankie and the tension between Robert and Sol. Robert, like Grace, holds order and ceremony in high regard. Sol, like Frankie, is a feeler and a healer, chooses comfort over style. Those were the things Robert could ignore when they were just sneaking around, but now he has to confront the fact that the radiant Grace isn’t on his arm at social outings. They work through their issues by the end of the episode in a very sitcom manner—happening too quickly and mostly for convenience’s sake. Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen continue to give great performances, but much more can must be done with the writing to convince me of this romance.


Stray observations:

  • Lydia blurts out that Grace looks stunning at the funeral. She’s right. Jane Fonda sparkles, always.
  • “I think your situation is much worse dear.” Damn, Sally the widow cuts deep.
  • “These are my comfort shoes!” Sol, I feel you. I wear Merrell sandals all summer for the sake of comfort, and like Robert, all of my friends yell at me for it.
  • I’m going to borrow Frankie’s “I have to count the bulbs on the chandelier” tactic for avoiding annoying people.