When “Grace and Frankie” competes in the Emmys this year, it will be as a comedy series. But while it fits into the somewhat arbitrary definitions set by the Television Academy this year, it’s not quite the laugh-out-loud event one might expect from co-creator Marta Kauffman, of “Friends” fame. As those who have seen the show can attest, it would be wise to tackle the first season on Netflix fully equipped with a box of tissues and a very huggable pillow.
At Netflix’s For Your Consideration screening of “Grace and Frankie” in late May, Marta Kauffman told Indiewire about what she got from the creative freedom that Netflix allows (in comparison to the rigid 20-minute, one-joke-per-page, multi-camera format of a show like “Friends”).
“I wanted to go deeper,” Kauffman said. “I want to do more mature work.”
Kauffman was met with applause and laughter when she opened the post-screening Q&A by announcing “Grace and Frankie” was being renewed for a second season, apparently thanks in part to a Miley Cyrus tweet. She was joined by co-creator Howard J. Morris and cast members Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen. Supporting actor Sam Waterson couldn’t make it as he was doing Shakespeare in the Park. (This, too, was met with applause.) Here are some highlights from the night:
At the start of the evening, the lovely Jane Fonda arrived promptly on the red carpet, looked around for a minute, stated to the press that she’s “gonna wait for Lily,” and left again. When she returned 15 minutes later with the rest of the panel, she traversed the carpet arm in arm with Lily Tomlin. These two giants, who first appeared together in the 1980 comedy “9 to 5,” seemed touchingly proud of their close relationship. Lily announced they will be doing a TED talk in Monterey on the subject of friendship, and Jane reminisced about how the pair were the “Thelma & Louise of Park City” when they visited for Sundance.
In fact, their friendship serendipitously launched the creation of the show. Calling it a “gorgeous fluke,” Marta recounted how it all started when she heard that Lily and Jane both wanted to do television. Thinking they meant together, she had her agent check. “They do now,” was the reply.
“I like to have someone parallel aging,” said Tomlin regarding what their friendship means to them now that they’re working on this project.
Fonda shot back, “Everyone’s unique, but she’s uniquer… I come from a long line of depressed people. Lily has a funny bone. I try to sit real close to her and rub up against her [in the hopes that the funny will transfer over.]”
Tomlin rolled her eyes, replying, “I told her the other day — because the reviews almost inevitably said we were both so funny — and I said, ‘Don’t ever say to me again that you’re not funny.'”
Fonda also confessed that she “got into social media because I thought [Tomlin] was heavy into it, only to discover she’s not. Now I am, and so I send her lots of emojis and stuff.”
Martin Loves Playing Prude
“Now, unfortunately, Marta didn’t know that about me when she came and asked me to do the part,” joked Martin Sheen, speaking for the first time 12 minutes into the Q&A. “But she does now.”
“I think we all know,” said Kauffman. “Look how red he is! Just say the word prude and you turn bright red.” Sure enough, Sheen hid behind his hands, revealing only a small patch of rosy forehead.
When asked about his working methods, Sheen gestured towards the female stars. “They’d have to tell you, I don’t know. I just show up.”
“He gives us all blessings,” Tomlin graciously clarified.
Sheen, playing along. “I come into the makeup room every morning and I say, “God bless everyone here, even the undeserving — and you know who you are.”
On Netflix as a Platform For the Show
Kauffman was happy to sing Netflix’s praises, saying that the streaming giant “keeps you honest. They keep you true to your vision.” In comparison with NBC’s concerns about “Friends” being inaccessible to audiences not in their 20s, “Netflix is the one place that didn’t talk about who’s going to watch. That wasn’t part of the question. The question was, ‘Is it a good show?'”
The creator also addressed ageism in media — a recurrent topic throughout the night — and how “Grace and Frankie” is a force of change in such an environment. Fonda agreed with Kauffman on the gravity of this issue, saying that she felt it was more “powerful” in the States than in other cultures around the world. Fonda told Indiewire on the red carpet that she was choosing to do television for the first time in her career because it was “friendlier towards older women,” and she felt that through it, she could work to balance out the hackneyed portrayal of their lives as dull and irrelevant.
While “Grace and Frankie” is certainly increasing visibility for mature female characters, “the hope is that it would be universal,” said Kauffman to Indiewire. Quite the opposite of pigeonholing its characters and audience into a certain age group, the show is creating intergenerational connections through its online platform. Jane agreed, saying “I love how many older people are asking their grandkids to come over and show them how to do Netflix.”
When asked if they enjoy binge-watching shows themselves, Fonda and Tomlin both decisively identified as “bingers.”
The Q&A ended on an triumphant note, the last question being, “What is the one thing people should take away from the show?”
“Hope,” said Jane Fonda, without hesitation. “You’re over the hill and there’s another hill. Nobody expects you to be a lot of things — but you are.” And she wrapped it up with a defiant and obscene gesture, giving all those who doubted her The Arm.