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'Grace and Frankie' review: A clunker, but Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin shine

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in "Grace and

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in "Grace and Frankie." Credit: Netflix / Melissa Moseley

THE SERIES "Grace and Frankie"

WHEN | WHERE All 13 episodes begin streaming Friday on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) meet for dinner at a tony Los Angeles restaurant in anticipation of some good news -- that their respective husbands, and law partners, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston), are finally planning to retire. Doesn't work out that way: They reveal they are both gay and planning to marry each other.

Neither Grace nor Frankie were friends before, but in crisis they form a bond, and figure out how to move forward together. This 13-episode series was created by Marta Kauffman (who co-created "Friends" with David Crane) and veteran comedy showrunner Howard J. Morris. Both Kauffman and Morris co-created the early '90s HBO comedy, "Dream On," and its star, Brian Benben, makes a cameo in their new series.

MY SAY Whether to like or simply endure "Grace and Frankie" probably means to approach this on its own terms. Problematically, once approached, even those terms aren't exactly easy to navigate either. The opening episode creaks and groans under the weight of a malnourished premise that feels like an update of an old movie, say, "The First Wives Club." The setup is stagey, the dialogue slack (or -- worse -- obvious).

But the only terms that really matter here are a pair of legends who have spent more years collectively in front of a camera then they'd probably like to be reminded of. They effortlessly know how to elevate even average material -- and pretty much do so here.

"Grace and Frankie" does improve somewhat over the six episodes that Netflix sent out for review and -- perhaps even better -- it evolves. Tomlin and Fonda's instincts are to build nuanced characters in the throes of a life crisis, while Kauffman's and Morris' instincts are to give them comedic beats. The results can be uneven and rarely "comedic" (and this really isn't exactly a comedy).

At a minimum, "Grace and Frankie" is a clinic -- in acting, timing, and how genuine stars are masters of both. The promise -- or at least hope -- is that they use these skills to build genuinely nuanced characters over all 13 episodes.

BOTTOM LINE A clunker, but at least Tomlin and Fonda are good -- and get better.


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