Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Binge Watching for Olympic Connections

Binge watching shows on Netflix can be fun.

For this viewer, the trend in blocking out a weekend to devour a TV program by the season began on a holiday featuring back to back episodes of "24" a few years ago.

Every "Curb Your Enthusiasm" DVD soon followed, and, of course, "House of Cards" and "Orange Is The New Black" became favorites (did anyone else notice both series' most recent season closers involved the same white van?).

My latest binge arrived via the early May debut of "Grace and Frankie," the new series starring former Atlanta resident Jane Fonda with her "9 to 5" co-star Lily Tomlin.

Readers of this blog may recall my conversation with Tomlin on stage at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts (a client) in 2008; looking back on that chat, I can't help wonder whether that gleam in Tomlin's eye was an early version of "Grace and Frankie" starting to take shape from Fonda's appearance at the same event.

"Grace and Frankie" is good stuff. Finished it in a couple of days, intentionally spreading the cheer over two lunch breaks and evenings at home.

It delighted me to learn season two was quickly approved for production (hooray!).

For the uninitiated, "Grace and Frankie" (Fonda and Tomlin) are the wives of two successful business partners (lawyers played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) who, in the series' opening scene, announce the fruits of their labor also inspired their closeted, decades-long gay love affair.

Determined to approach retirement without secrets, Sheen and Waterston reveal their intention to divorce their wives and marry each other.

Their formerly even-keeled lives set adrift, Grace and Frankie -- a Los Angeles socialite and a free-spirited art instructor, respectively -- reluctantly form a partnership as roommates in the Malibu beach house their soon-to-be-ex husbands purchased as an investment property.

Their adult children (including a recovering drug addict and an adopted son) and many others, such as former convicts in Frankie's post-prison art classes, work to console the women and help them build new lives.

At its core, "Grace and Frankie" is a show about grief and its many stages. Here are two couples, four adults and their families who've suddenly lost their identities, each forced -- for better or worse -- to forge ahead.

I like the bone dry humor, and though laughter is the best medicine, I wouldn't call "Grace and Frankie" a 'happy' comedy; it's not a drama, but many of the topics are a step closer to dramatic than, say, episodes of "The Golden Girls" that dealt with 'serious' issues of people in their sixties or seventies.

Tomlin's hippie character steals the show almost every segment, but Fonda's uptight freak-outs crack me up, too. As the retired founder of a cosmetics company now run by her daughter, some of Fonda's best lines arrive in conversations about how to run the business now versus back in the day.

The ladies' experiments with social media and online dating are a riot -- confused by a (fictional) app that seemed to blend the best of Facebook pokes and Tinder swipes, Grace corrects Frankie that in search of a date she has emphatically "NOT been punching or fingering anyone" via her mobile device.

Frankie's special blend for personal lubricant also earned many belly laughs in later episodes -- for anyone who recalls "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" think of the lube as the 21st century answer to "grot."

Also enjoyable is the brainy chemistry shared by Waterston and Sheen. The latter seems to borrow from his folksy Southern lawyer character spotted dancing at the kitchen sink in "Catch Me If You Can." Perhaps their best shared scenes take place at their public 'coming out' event, which happens to be at the funeral for another longtime law firm partner.

I found Waterston enjoyed an Olympic-tied project as the actor narrated the NBC Olympic featurette "The Great Race" detailing a Winter Games rivalry. Regrettably, I missed the air date and binge-watching of the Torino 2006 Olympics as work took me to Italy for most of that event.

While describing "Grace and Frankie" to friends, I've cautioned the first two episodes can be heavy; the jokes and story seem to gain steam in episode three, and by episode five -- which sets up an interesting sort of flashback scenario -- the laughs are frequent and very funny. There are some very subtle, perhaps accidental, references to "9 to 5" scenes, and it won't surprise me one bit if Dolly Parton and/or Dabney Coleman show up in cameos during season two (we can hope they will).

Bottom line: "Grace and Frankie" is a binge-worthy series worth a look.

Images via Netflix and/or the 'Grace and Frankie' page on Facebook

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