Thirty-five years after Jane Fonda recruited Lily Tomlin as a co-star in “Nine to Five,” the two have teamed together again, this time for a TV series, “Grace and Frankie.” Created by Marta Kauffman, who co-created “Friends,” and Howard J. Morris, who wrote for “Home Improvement,” it is available now on Netflix (the self-described “world’s leading Internet television network”).
Fonda plays Grace; Tomlin is Frankie. We meet them meeting at a fancy restaurant, and it is made clear from the get-go that all they have in common are their husbands, business partners Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston), who arrive presently to announce that they are in love with one another and want to get married because, says Grace’s Robert, “you can do that now.” And we’re off.
(The series is a reunion in more ways than one: Tomlin spent time on “The West Wing” with Sheen, as Fonda did with Waterston on “The Newsroom” — both Aaron Sorkin series.)
In that it deals with a late-life announcement about sexual identity, “Grace and Frankie” has a superficial kinship to another recent Internet series, Jill Soloway’s “Transparent” on Amazon. But the husbands’ storyline, while certainly tended to and nicely played, is not really the point — it’s the device, rather, that launches the women into close mutual orbit, that gives them a reason to commiserate and collaborate despite their heavily limned antipathies and differences.
Grace, who founded a makeup line, is put together from the outside in. She lives in a state of glacial perfection; in more ways than one, including her marriage, she’s invested in appearances. Frankie, an amateur painter who teaches art to ex-cons, is squishy and spiritual and all over the place. But they wind up living together, more or less, in a co-owned beach house. That is to say, a mansion on the water: We are, again, in the company of the well-heeled.