Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Say Goodbye to ‘Grace and Frankie’ With a Little Help From Dolly Parton

They really don’t make stars like this anymore. Saying goodbye to Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” is almost the equivalent of marking once again the passing of a generation, if not an era. It has always been a hilarious show since first premiering in 2016, but it can’t be denied its magic is in the pairing of Jane Fonda  and Lily Tomlin. While they are the driving force, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston were always close behind with their own flawless deliveries of the material. Season seven ends the run of this gem with fitting sarcasm, glee and a joyous defiance of fearing age. Maybe we need the great veterans like Fonda to assure us that it’s best to face the twilight with bite.

The final episodes are all hijinks and a special sense of nostalgia. Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) are trying to keep their hydraulic toilet invention from going down in flames, while Grace is dealing with the headache of Nick (Peter Gallagher) being let out of prison early. At least he’s grateful to be back at home and even pitched the toilet idea to Mark Cuban. But age is the bigger challenge and Frankie is stressing out over her deteriorating health and possibly taking away her ability to do the things she loves most, such as painting. The pairs’ ex-husbands turned lovers Sol (Waterston) and Robert (Sheen), grapple with their own twin issues: Solving a burglary and facing Robert’s emerging Alzheimer’s. Transitions also come with stresses for the younger family members. Barry (Peter Cambor) is going to introduce Brianna (June Diane Raphael) to his parents, who are of a totally different, nicer breed.

The tone of these final episodes feels like the writing team taking advantage to throw in all the good jokes they’ve been saving for the final lap. Light laughs combine with raunchy rib digs. We can watch these pros go at it for hours. Nick panics when his probation officer arrives and he reveals his house arrest in good standing because he claimed he must care for an ailing Grace. You can fully see Fonda having fun while having to pretend to be incapacitated while the probation officer (Martha Kelly) apparently falls for it. Barry introducing Brianna to his clean-cut parents is another highlight when she has to say out loud that the password to her phone is “Fuck Me,” or when the family accidentally gets a peek at her nude pics. A perfect crescendo to the careers of Sheen and Waterston is to have the actors who defined “Apocalypse Now” and “Law & Order” clumsily trying to form a neighborhood watch. Other memorable moments you’ll get this season are Grace and Frankie sneaking into a casino in disguise and throwing together a last minute wedding. 

But as the show nears its inevitable conclusion, the material takes on a much deeper resonance. Brianna finally mends ties with her sister, Mallory (Brooklyn Decker), who had been promoted over her at work and inspired bitter rivalry. As expected, the most emotive exits belong to Grace, Frankie, Sol and Robert. More tears than laughs will be inspired by the moment Sol and Robert sit together looking out at the sea, as Sol confesses he fears Robert’s illness will erase their story from his memory. Later they will be at the hotel where it all began and Robert will reassure Sol that despite his condition, he will keep going and hopefully form new memories with his great love. Grace and Frankie get the more appropriately wild climax involving a stage and a shattering wine glass that causes a microphone to electrocute them both. Briefly, they reawaken in the afterlife, where they share their fears about death and the passage of time. And who sits at heaven’s front, desk? None other than country icon, and their “9 to 5” co-star, Dolly Parton, who then helps with the paperwork needed to get back among the living.

You could say “Grace and Frankie” ends with the joyous note that life simply goes on. In the end all we really have are our friends and loved ones, whether as blood relatives or not. Grace and Frankie bonded over their husbands leaving them for each other. The most solid friendships tend to form out of unpredictable moments. As a comedy this will remain a fantastic record of some major screen legends having a ball for seven seasons where they were allowed to simply do what they know best. After decades of delivering classic dramas, iconic roles and influencing everyone that came after, they all deserved a show that feels like a vacation. That might just be the best part of “Grace and Frankie,” in a way it celebrates looking back at a long life and still having the energy to keep finding new ways to have fun while strolling down the beach.

Grace & Frankie” season seven part two begins streaming April 29 on Netflix.