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Grace and Frankie: Season One
Co-created by Marta Kauffman (one of the creators of "Friends") and Howard J. Morris, "Grace and Frankie" is another uniquely modern TV show that could only exist in the era of "networks" like Netflix and Hulu, who have the freedom to offer viewers programs that aren't bound by old-fashioned notions of content ratings or adherence to certain sitcom structures. "Grace and Frankie" is aimed at multiple audiences a major broadcast network would consider "niche" (older viewers who will already be familiar with the show's four main cast members, and an LGBTQ-comfortable audience); it's peppered with the occasional R-rated bit of language and some risque humor; and it's a single-camera, serialized program with no laugh track that nonetheless relies on an old-fashioned style of back-and-forth jabs, traded by two comic veterans.
As the show gets going, it's that old-fashioned humor that takes awhile to get going. Now, I'm definitely not the demographic this show is intended for, but I know my film history. It's not that the screwball barbs that Grace and Frankie lob at each other aren't hip enough, it's more that they feel out of place in what is otherwise a modern, progressive show, complete with texting, online dating, and of course, gay marriage. More often than not, watching Fonda and Tomlin tear into each other is more pleasing in principle than in execution. Thankfully, some of the awkwardness is little more than growing pains, with the show finding a better foothold for the humor as the season continues, even if it's never exactly a laugh-out-loud kind of experience.
What does work, and works from the beginning, is the show's compassion for everyone involved. Grace and Frankie aren't bigots, and although Grace certainly starts out wondering how her husband leaving her for another man looks to other people, it's more that both women feel that Robert and Sol's announcement has invalidated their lives, that the struggle and the patches of mediocrity and uncertainty were all for nothing. Even when the comedy is hit-and-miss, the show's drama is always on point as its characters learn to navigate a new world where the traits their previous partner brought to the table are taken away or redefined, including how their various children (including Ethan Embry, Baron Vaughn, June Diane Raphael, and Brooklyn Decker, who seems much more comfortable playing a comically exasperated mother and daughter than the bombshell Hollywood keeps casting her as) are dealing with the repercussions it has going from being two separate families to being step-relations. These growing pains are also couched in the uncertainty of old age, the idea that even at 70, people still find themselves having to deal with their world being turned upside down. Sheen and Waterston also contribute plenty to the show's warmth, with the show making a point to check in on their navigation of being an out gay couple in every episode.
Fonda and Tomlin are executive producers on "Grace and Frankie", a project they helped develop for themselves. Although the finished product is sometimes a little rough around the edges, like a first draft of all the ideas both women wanted to use for their characters and for the story, the moments where it works (and it mostly does) validate the need for projects like "Grace and Frankie" to exist. The unique nature of the show is its other greatest asset, and it's great to think that Fonda and Tomlin are able to use the show to create something for multiple audiences that are frequently overlooked. The ways the show fits into a conventional mold and the ways it pops out of one are both equally valuable, like a breath of equally fresh and familiar air.
"Grace and Frankie" comes in another Lionsgate package that just feels so flimsy, in my mind, it detracts from the perceived value of the set. Ditch the cases with holes for the kind without! The artwork keeps things simple: a photo of the two title characters comically interacting with each other, and the art has a green color scheme. Inside the case, next to the three discs, one will find a sheet listing the episodes and a brief description of each, and an UltraViolet Digital Copy for a standard-def online copy of the show. The entire package slides in a matte slipcover (psst: I'd also vote for thicker cases over slipcovers).
The Video and Audio
Presented across three discs in a slightly unconventional 1.90:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, "Grace and Frankie" looks pretty much adequate for a modern television show. The crisp, bright digital photography lends itself to DVD even though some softness and a very minor amount of compression artifacts are noticeable, and colors are especially vivid. The show, as with so many modern productions, is mostly dialogue based and clearly shot on soundstages, meaning every line is easy to hear, along with the occasional music cue. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.
The extras start on Disc 2, which offers up a gag reel (7:01) for the entire season, and the set's making-of documentary, "The Beginning of the End" (29:48), which is actually a roundtable with Marta Kauffman, Howard J. Morris, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin, where they discuss the origins of the show, the themes and ideas they wanted to focus on, the development process, and more, cut up by the occasional clip from the show.
On Disc 3, viewers are offered two audio commentaries on "The Elevator" (Kauffman and Morris) and "The Vows" (Kauffman, Morris, Fonda, and Tomlin). These are nice episode-specific chats that differentiate themselves from the more general featurette on the second disc. Extras conclude with a brief sneak peek (1:41) at Season Two.
Trailers for "Orange is the New Black" and "Manhattan" play before the main menu on Disc 1.
In terms of home video, the one question with these shows produced by online networks face is the question as to why one would want to buy a DVD when the show's native venue is HD streaming. Fans will appreciate the set's extras, but may also find themselves wondering (and rightly so) why companies like Netflix don't include them with the subscription. In the case of "Grace and Frankie", however, I can believe there's a wide audience that doesn't subscribe to Netflix or care about HD video, so for once I see the appeal. Recommended.
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