TAKE TWO: Serial Storytelling

TAKE TWO: Serial Storytelling

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TAKE TWO: Serial Storytelling

by Bruce Kirkland

I’m now a Netflix binge-watcher

Throughout my 38 years as a film critic, I rarely wrote about television. When I launched my film days at The Toronto Sun in 1980, most television wasn’t worth writing about, in any depth. How times have changed – and, absolutely, for the better as it relates to the small screen. Because popcorn blockbusters dominate in cinemas, the more-intimate, smaller-scale films (that burst with ideas and attitude) are harder to find. This has become a new golden age, especially with specialty channels shucking off the narrow-minded censorship that networks self-impose to placate sponsors. Great TV is easily accessible. My wife and I finally signed up for Netflix, which offers fresh storytelling of the serial kind.

I now find myself binge-watching. The latest addiction is the Netflix original, Grace and Frankie. We quickly ploughed through all four seasons, usually with glasses of wine in hand. I could say that it was in honour of Jane Fonda, who plays Grace, but the truth is, we love wine just as much as Fonda’s character, and it pairs well with the melodrama that Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris created in 2015.

(Left to right): Sam Waterston, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen.
(Left to right): Sam Waterston, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen.

The Kauffman/Morris premise is simple, and a little bit staged. The first season starts with two business partners – Martin Sheen as Robert and Sam Waterston as Sol – announcing the end of their marriages to their wives – Fonda as the steely and sardonic Grace, and Tomlin as the pot-smoking, hippy-dippy Frankie. The stagey bit is that Robert and Sol, both divorce lawyers, want their own divorces so that they can get married to each other after being secret lovers for two decades. The Robert/Sol relationship is less convincing than the unlikely, yet fascinating, friendship that develops between the two opposites – Grace and Frankie. I respect all four actors, each of whom I have interviewed. For the record, Fonda was always the most difficult and abrasive, but always engaging, so Grace shadows elements of Fonda’s own personality. At the other end of the spectrum, the utterly charming Waterston plays Sol like a giant muppet. In between, Sheen is stalwart as Robert, and Tomlin is the scene-stealing triumph as Frankie.

The real value of this series, however, is the way profound moments and genuine human behaviour are layered into the melodrama and comedy. The stars are mature actors, ranging in age from 77 to 80, and they talk openly about the complexities of sexuality, intimacy, love, loyalty, gender equality, sexual orientation, heartache, loss, tragedy, joy, friendship, booze, drugs, addiction and vibrators, along with the best/worst things about just living in their senior years as the twilight glimmers ahead. Bravo! I can’t wait for season five, coming to Netflix in 2019.

Bruce Kirkland’s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.



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