Robert and Sol are business partners who live in and out of each other’s pockets. They are also in love and have been for the past twenty years. They’ve also been married to their wives for the past forty. Sol is racked with guilt about betraying a woman whom he still truly loves, while Robert has no time for guilt anymore, he’s felt guilty about who he really is for the last two decades, he now wants to move on with his life, happy with the man of his dreams.

But this isn’t Robert and Sol’s story, its Grace and Frankie’s. The woman they left behind. Both are fleeing the homes that have housed the lies they are trying to escape. Both end up in their husbands’ shared property, setting up the odd couple contraption at the heart of the their relationship.

Grace – played to perfection by Jane Fonda – is, as her name suggests, the picture of elegance and beauty. Two characteristics her former husband Robert will come to miss. She has an incredible body for a woman in her seventies. She refuses to eat anything unnecessary, but will drink like a fish because – as she says – “Alcohol has its own rules.” Its little details like that that make the characters seem so recognisable.

Lily Tomlin plays Frankie, a new-age free spirit who along with her now ex Sol, called her children Coyote and Nwabudike. She’s heartbroken about more than her lifestyle coming to an end; she’s lost her best friend. While Grace is straight-talking, with no thought for the feelings of others, Frankie is straight-talking while thinking about others too much. It’s what brought her and Sol together. In one heart-breaking scene, she kicks Sol out of the bedroom only to find that she can’t sleep without him, so she joins him in his exile.

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Robert and Sol are played terrifically by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston respectively; while I can’t pretend to know much about elderly gay couples, these two never had me questioning their connection for a second. Robert is much like what you would expect Grace’s husband to be, conservative – both politically and socially – and a strict follower of etiquette. It’s what makes the moments of his emotional breakdown so impactful. By contrast, Sol wears his heart on his sleeve, a fact that gets him into trouble on more than one occasion. His break up with Frankie is the most touching as they struggle to bring an end to forty years of legitimate love. Robert and Grace however, have been drifting apart for years.

Their kids are less of a focus on the series. Brooklyn Decker and Baron Vaughn’s characters barely get anything to do and Ethan Embry’s Coyote has two separate storylines (one about his relationship with Grace’s daughter Mallory and one about his search for his birth mother) that get dropped from the series like a loose piece of luggage. June Diane Raphael’s Brianna fares better. Clearly the favoured child of the writers, her character gets the most exploration, although even the resolution of her newly found romance looks to be another angle saved for the upcoming season two.

Lily Tomlin – while the only member of the cast to receive a major acting nomination – is perhaps the weak link of the bunch, but this is entirely down to how the script has developed her character. Burdened with the role of ‘crazy hippy lady’ she’s saddled with the biggest load of broad comedy, this series’ most unfortunate indulgence. Like a recovering overeater smuggling spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry’s, Grace and Frankie keeps sneaking into the sitcom cupboard to fetch the gaudy farce set pieces to try and go for big belly laughs. It knows it shouldn’t – it feels completely out of place with the subtle characterisation and the otherwise gentle humour – but it keeps coming back to this little weakness, betraying the producer’s multi-camera roots.

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Frankie’s alternative lifestyle is openly mocked as are the cultures (mostly Native American) she appropriates on her half-hearted quest for self-enlightenment. The series only seeks to derive comedy from her progressive outlook, developing her character mostly through her insecurities. It has a lot more sympathy for Grace’s lifestyle choices. The prim and proper image of societies’ perfect wife, in her poise we find both her strength and her weakness. One of the best scenes in the first episode is her looking in a mirror and removing her false eyelashes, taking out her extensions, and essentially deconstructing the person she has built up over forty years of what turned out to be deceit.

It is drama like this that proves to be the compelling aspect of the series, driving it from episode to episode. Moments like the kids realising that if the dads had fooled around with women for a fifth of a century, then they wouldn’t have been forgiven quite so easily, is hugely preferred to seeing Lily Tomlin failing a vision quest, and a bucking a bronco in the shape of a dildo. Even a trope so clichéd as cheating partners is given new life in this series. I don’t remember the last time the worn-out cliche of infidelity made my jaw drop, but this series somehow managed it.

Grace and Frankie is a bit of an ego project, paid for by a couple of acting legends who just want to play complex roles with a great script. Why should we not want this too? Both women are incredible, backed up by a great supporting cast, and an intelligent and compassionate script. Their egos deserve this, and their talent needs more exposure to this newer generation.

Creators: Marta Kauffman, Howard J. Morris

Prd: Marta Kauffman, Howard J. Morris, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin

Cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston

DOP: Gale Tattersall

Country: USA

Year: 2015

Grace and Frankie is available on DVD and Blu Ray on the 18th of April.