The Unicorn Scale: Grace and Frankie (Revisited)

4/4/2019

Hello and welcome back, loyal readers! As I continue to write this column, a few themes continue to crop up. As I’ve discussed before, there’s the “How Have We Not Discussed This?” section, with bi+ rep that I’m surprised we haven’t covered yet at the Scale. And another theme is shows revealing multiple characters are bi as the show unfolds. One of those that does this progression spectacularly is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend . And once I read this article on PinkNews, I thought it might be time to watch the new season of Grace and Frankie. We’ve covered G&F before here at the Scale, but would this new season add further nuance? It was time to grab a dirty martini and find out.

As per usual, here is my disclaimer which is the closest thing I know to legal-ese: there will be SPOILERS for the dramedy Grace and Frankie (2015-), up to and including events in Season Five. Also if this is your first time hearing about what the Unicorn Scale is or would just like a refresher course, we have the whole metric spelled out at the original article here.

Grace and Frankie follows the lives of eponymous seventysomethings Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), whose former husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, respectively) left them to be with each other. Reeling from this news, the two acquaintances move into the only asset left to them from the divorce – a beach house in La Jolla, where their Odd Couple-like personalities bounce off each other while they begin the next chapters of their lives together.

WHAT I LIKED:

I have to say, one of the things Grace and Frankie does best is display the multiple dimensions of older characters on television. In every single episode, we get to see the main players’ desires, fears, personalities, and senses of humor on display. Grace and Frankie have full agency over their lives and interests, and actively work on changing their situations. That’s a rarity for the AARP set ever since The Golden Girls went off the air. And it’s truly a delight to see Fonda and Tomlin, actresses “of a certain age,” find super-meaty roles other than a grandma who may, at most, have some sage advice and maybe rap for a cheap punchline.

And now, those roles seems to include their sexualities – at least a little bit more than before. I was surprised and delighted in the second episode of Season Five during a squatting session to reclaim their sold beach house/Grace’s first slumber party when Grace revealed she had kissed women in her youth:

FRANKIE: Well, congratulations. Sharing secrets is an important part of the successful slumber party.

GRACE: Well, what else is supposed to happen?

FRANKIE: Well, I suppose it’s too much to hope for “I show me yours, I’ll show you mine?”

GRACE: Okay, you wanna have sex with me or what?

FRANKIE: (laughs) No, but I love how uncomfortable it makes you.

GRACE: It doesn’t make me uncomfortable! I’ve kissed a girl.

FRANKIE: You have not.

GRACE: A lot of things happened before you came on the scene.

OK, so here’s the thing with this small, touching scene: No, Grace doesn’t say outright she is bi. No, she does not elaborate (or at least, we don’t get to see her dish the dirt). Yes, she does express she has felt attraction to multiple sexes (since she has had a husband and multiple male lovers since their divorce).

However. When detractors argue this scene isn’t enough to label her as anything more than bi-curious, I marvel at their lack of critical viewing. Before this passage, Grace details a heartbreaking story about her mother and the dancer’s life she did not get to live. So it makes sense this thought would dredge up old memories of encounters she may have wanted to explore in her youth that may have passed her by. I think it’s crucial to remember Grace is a white, uptight, nearly-eightysomething woman, and that some previous generations than this current one may have trouble grappling with the idea we can embrace and explore our orientation with far less judgment and scrutiny. Grace would have come of age in the late fifties – that was not exactly a bright historical spot for the LGBT community. The preamble of her mother’s sad tale speaks to me of a life of internalized repression and biphobia – so it makes perfect sense to me it would take five seasons (or three years in the show’s timeline) for Grace to speak up about her queerness.

I sure hope to see Grace explore her bi-ness in future seasons. Better late than never.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

Unfortunately, this reveal does not right the many wrongs Grace and Frankie directs towards bisexuality. To my recollection, this is the sole mention of Grace being bi in this whole season. Or at the very least, it doesn’t come up as far as her romantic/sexual plotlines for Season 5. I wouldn’t necessarily call that queerbaiting, but it sure feels like it’s in the vicinity of it.

Not only that, but the whole premise of the show hinges on the idea Sol and Robert must be gay, even when Sol ends up hooking up with Frankie earlier on in the series (as Talia wrote about in the first installment). This gets further perpetuated in Season Four as well, when the couple bristles that a man in their gay theatre company had previous relationships with women before meeting his partner. Apparently their dichotomous mentality cannot reconcile the idea of this idea, which is especially annoying since the two characters in question know about their sexual pasts and are secure about their marriage and feelings towards each other.

I want to make more age allowances for them in the same way I do for Grace, but these tendencies read more as stubbornness than repression. Really, it’s none of Sol or Robert’s business, yet they keep poking the bear (not the queer term “bear,” but … you get what I’m driving at). So G&F continues to show a set of principles that are not as accepting as its generally open-minded outset likes to think it does – at least towards bi+ people.

THE RATING:

Since this article is doing a revisit, I do not want to say my rating supersedes the findings of Talia’s conclusions whatsoever. But I will say I agree with what she wrote, and I was so touched by Grace’s display I think it’s worthy of getting another unicorn in my rating. But this is still not a good show insofar as bi representation in modern media – but it is massively rewarding in many other arenas. Grace and Frankie may not tick all my boxes, but I would still join the ladies on the beach chairs any day – in or outside of the beach house.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.