One of the great rewards of getting older, and they are there, creaky body parts and forgetful memory notwithstanding, is the increasing sense that you can do as you please.
Of course, you can’t always do that since people weirdly insist on your wearing clothes on public transport and a diet wholly composed of cheesecake and wine is a shortcut to an early grave (though damn fine fun on the way right?) but the constraints of a youthful mindset, which might be adventurous but doesn’t have enough life experience to say to hell with other people’s expectations, slips away and you begin to realise that the world won’t end if you don’t do x, y or z.
This is exactly where Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) find themselves at the start of the fifth season of the most delightful and consistently good sitcoms around, happy to say, repeatedly in fact, “I don’t give a fuck” but all too aware that the world won’t necessarily be amenable to your new screw expectations outlook.
Being Grace and Frankie, of course, they don’t let this stop them from embarking on a new limitations-less journey, quickly recovering from the loss of their house at the end of season 4 – sold out from under them by their kids who, rather annoyingly, seemed all too happy to mollycoddle their mothers while leaving their dads, rather misogynistically, to their own devices – by buying it right back.
Happily re-ensconced in their gorgeous house by the sea, a place that has been a refuge for them over the four seasons to date in which they found out their respective husbands were gay, in love and wanted to get married, they set about in season 5 essentially giving the finger to time, their kids (at last!) and the expectations of anyone and everyone who tried to get in their way.
What makes this in-your-face approach to life so enjoyable to watch, apart from the fact that when is it not fun to tell busybodies and know-it-alls to go take an enormous hike somewhere you’re not, is that while a shared spirit is there, neither Grace nor Frankie, two very different souls after all, tackle it the same way.
Frankie, for instance, decides to get back to her roots, re-discovering her veganism, living in a yurt, having a short but kumbayah affair with a man living in a yurt, and committing herself to her art no holds barred.
Frankie being Frankie, of course, nothing is done in half measures or with any kind of nod to conventional thinking, culminating in getting high one day – with Robert (Martin Sheen)! and promising 50,000 women on social media that they’d get free vibrators and yes, donuts.
I mean, when did the two not go together?
The problem with Frankie’s adorable militancy, which finds expression in, among other things, campaigning for an extra three seconds to be added to a crosswalk across a favourite restaurant, is that it often runs hard up against Grace’s more conservative and dare we say, emotionally more restrained world view.
That is, naturally, the great central dynamic of the show, one that has powered sitcoms down through the ages, and which works magnificently well on Grace and Frankie because showrunners Kauffman and Howard J. Morris know that for it to work, the two characters must actually really like each other at heart.
And Grace and Frankie do, they really do, and even when they have a huge argument and Grace runs off to the Maldives (with Nick, played by Peter Gallagher) and later gets married to him, and Frankie posts a different video than agreed to their business’s website that promises the drug-fuelled offer of donuts and vibrators will be honoured, and makes a hideous mess of the house again, the reality is that they really matter to each other.
Importantly this time around, at an age when they need each other more than ever despite what they might feel episode to episode, they appreciate that they don’t just matter to each other because they helped each other survive the traumatically-unexpected end of their marriages, but because they have been there for each other for all the stuff on the other side of that trauma.
In other words, their friendship isn’t just a product of particular, emotionally-troubling point in time, but a real, intimate, deep bond that survives all kinds of things and you suspect, with season 6 already greenlit, and it is this bond that sustains them when all kinds of, admittedly very funny, headbutting shenanigans go on.
It’s what draws you back and again to Grace and Frankie which, while it made much better use of the kids this season – Bud (Baron Vaughn) got married! Coyote (Ethan Embry) is teaching again and has a biological brother! Brianna (June Diane Raphael) is in love and Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) has found new love and pot! – and gave Sol (Sam Waterston) and Robert some real moments of emotional angst to work through, wisely devoted much of its time to examining how two women well into their seventies (or beyond; sorry Grace but it’s true), navigate life when they don’t yet want to stop living and are tired of being told how they should live their remaining years.
If, like me, you spent much of your life, enslaved to a crippling degree to other peoples’ expectations, before finally breaking free, you will find much to identify with in Grace and Frankie’s stop-start, realistically-flawed attempts to live life on their own terms.
The trick is that the show doesn’t pretend, even for a sitcom, that this kind of approach if easy, but it makes it clear that it is necessary for the two women to scream “I don’t give a fuck!” and stake their claim to life lived their way because if they can’t do it now, when the hell are they going to do it.
The final episode of season 5, where we go on a It’s a Wonderful Life alternate-reality trip to what might have happened if Grace and Frankie hadn’t connected and friendship therapy’d each other through the end of the world as they then knew it, is imaginative, fun and instructive because it reminds us just what they, and everyone else, has gained over five seasons; but also how much of the heart and the soul of the show is due to their deep connection to each other and how not giving a fuck is only really a meaningful thrill when you have someone who shares your sensibility and is willing to go wherever and why ever with you, come what may.