When Netflix’s Emmy-nominated comedy Grace and Frankie launched in 2015, I assumed it was just a show for my mom. Four seasons later, I’ve learned I was wrong. The truth is, this sitcom about two elderly women getting ditched by their gay husbands has somehow become one of the most provocative, sex-positive and shockingly deep comedies on TV.
The story revolves primarily around Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), who reluctantly become best friends after their gay husbands (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen) bail on them to marry each other. The person most affected and inspired by her parents’ sharp left turn late in life, though, is Grace’s daughter, Mallory, played by Brooklyn Decker.
“Mallory was the last family member sort of clinging to this antiquated idea of what a perfect family looks like,” Decker tells Playboy. “I think seeing her father in pursuit of his version of happiness, seeing her mom in this new phase of life, it really gave her the power to take ownership over what made her happy, no matter how unconventional.”
So instead of being comfortable with misery, as her mother was until change was forced upon her, Mallory takes the initiative herself to leave a marriage she finds unrewarding at best. “Mallory discovers that trying to please and take care of everyone gets her nowhere,” Decker says. “She simply wants a better life for herself.” It certainly takes a lot of guts for a woman with no job to leave her hot-doctor husband with whom she shares four kids. But as Decker explains, Mallory does because “she knows she deserves better. How badass is that?”
For the first time, we’re seeing women over the age of 50 talking about sex, wanting to feel desired.
Of course, this adjustment isn’t easy for her. Mallory now lives in an apartment and works as an intern for her sister, while her ex is dating a pretty new thang and driving a Porsche. But “the whole idea behind the show is that we’re getting people to be completely unapologetic about what they want in life,” Decker says, “and we get to see them go after it, no matter how messy.”
Much like this new version of Mallory, both Grace and Frankie are single, unapologetic women who have zero fucks left to give as the seasons go on. In her 70s, Grace has even discovered a new hobby: masturbating. In fact, she enjoys it so much, she starts a geriatric vibrator company with Frankie. It’s hard to believe there’s a show on TV about old ladies selling vibrators to other old ladies. Decker’s thrilled, too.
“What I love about this show is that, for the first time, we’re seeing women over the age of 50 talking about sex, wanting to feel desired, wanting to desire and wanting to have a second change at love and life,” the 30-year-old Battleship actress says. “It’s not that groundbreaking of a concept—these are things all women feel.” But it is groundbreaking television “because, sadly, we’re used to only watching twenty- and thirtysomethings going through these experiences.”
Before now, can you think of a single sitcom that made older women so visible or their sex lives so important? The women of The Golden Girls dated and had sex, but they never addressed women’s entitlement to pleasure, except maybe Blanche (Rue McClanahan), who was made fun of for being a slutty Southern belle. What makes G&F so revolutionary is that these are women put out to pasture long ago by society who are now shamelessly having sex, and more importantly, demanding they actually enjoy it.
The show also exposes the ways in which women of their age become invisible once they’re no longer seen as useful to men. “Men have been taught for too long to look at the world through the lens of functionality and purpose,” cast member Baron Vaughn, who plays Frankie’s son Bud, tells Playboy.
In season three, Bud helps impart a critical lesson about a woman’s entitlement to sexual pleasure when he faces off with his girlfriend’s vibrator. When she masturbates shorty after they have sex and moans louder than she had with him, Bud gets insecure and asks if sex with him is "better.”
Vaughn says his character’s reaction is pretty common among American men. “This scene was a great way for us to address what exactly male fragility is,” he says. “Because men are taught to think of themselves as the most powerful thing on earth—this big, strong machine that can get the job done in the bedroom. But now all of a sudden, women have these other machines. They’re not only built better than we are, they never wear out and can be replaced by even better machines when they do.”
“This whole male fragility thing comes down to two things—youth and penis size,” Vaughn says. “We’ve been taught to look at sex in terms of purpose. Similar to someone who looks at eating only in terms of fuel instead of a social situation you share with others.”
Vaughn points out that the relationship between Fonda and Tomlin is clearly what inspires the show’s core story. “Their relationship has lasted for decades, and these characters reflect how much these women have helped each other grow over the years,“ he says.
You can see how much these women love each other off-camera, too, like on their interview on Today. Tomlin quipped about Fonda’s plastic surgery, referring to Fonda’s infamous interview about it with Megyn Kelly. When I ask Decker about Kelly’s recent attack of Fonda, Decker said she couldn’t blame Kelly for being curious about Fonda’s looks.
“She looks incredible, and it’s been a topic Jane has openly discussed for years,” Decker says. Having said that, Decker still believes Kelly’s recent remarks were a “low blow and, frankly, seemed like a ratings grab.”
Decker believes that Fonda has every right to be be annoyed by Kelly’s line of questioning. “Why should her looks be the most-discussed topic when she’s starring in a hit television show, producing and starring in films, and taking the lead in this new movement for women?” Decker asks.
Grace and Frankie season four is currently streaming on Netflix.