By: Maya Alexandria
One of the Easiest Shows to Pick Up
While names like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin already sell a show, throwing Marta Kauffman (who also created Friends) into this delicious cocktail of dry charm and salty one-liners makes this show truly worthy of its many nominations, including the Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress- Television Series Musical or Comedy. Much like the finest of wine and our leading ladies, Grace and Frankie only betters with age with the seventh and final season in production. While we have seen plenty of transitions and changes as Grace and Frankie navigate their twilight year, one thing has remained constant: the pure mastery and genius of the title sequence. Having a title sequence that not only deeply analyzes the main characters s as well as meditates on the themes of freedom, age and ageism, and divorce grants its audience with more than enough context that even new fans can pick up from virtually any episode in any season and comfortably land in the narrative.
*potential spoilers beyond this point please read at your own risk*
Logline & Background
Before we even meet the cast, we witness something like a puppet show performed on a tiered wedding cake with two pairs of wedding toppers in the very first episode of the series; and for over 6 years the puppet show has told the same story about the main conflict of the show: with nowhere else to go after their husbands, Robert Hanson and Sol Bergstein, reveal their decades-long affair with each other, Grace Hanson (Fonda) and Frankie Bergstein (Tomlin) must live together in their beach house where their adventures together invite friendship, drama, and introspection.
Wedding Toppers: Characterizing Characters
Even without acting out scenes, these toppers have a lot to say thanks to their level of detail. As they perform the story, we watch how they slowly evolve out of the traditional wedding topper figurines into individual persons by the end of the big reveal: Grace transforms from her white wedding dress into her signature business casual look while Frankie develops her free-spirited hippie wardrobe. Despite the stark differences between Grace and Frankie, Robert and Sol look relatively similar from the beginning to the end of the title sequence showing us how as the two men grew closer in love together, their wives were already transitioning out of marriage in their own way whether they realized it or not.
Be Free & Eat Cake
Just like any theatrical performance, the stage provides just as much information as to its actors. Besides the topper and some of their props, the cake is void of any vibrant decorations or colors very reminiscent of a blank slate. While usually a sad sight, the blank slate cake ultimately illustrates the endless possibilities that the women have in their lives now that they are free from their deceitful marriage. Had the divorce not happened, Grace and Frankie would have never partnered up to launch their vibrator created specifically for older women; and when they’re not profiting off of their failed marriages, they embark on their romantic encounters with a variety of suitors: from new love with the local yam man to rekindling an old flame with a former contractor. To unwind from their antics and their busy schedule, they unapologetically drink and smoke their worries away. When some may think a failed marriage is the end of the road, Grace and Frankie prove them wrong by living more authentically than they ever have before. They may not be young, but these ladies are definitely wild and free.
The Icing on the Cake
While the cake represents a fresh start for our heroines, the icing on the cake provides further analysis of the themes discussed throughout the show. Notice how the color isn’t white but tinged a light shade of yellow, much like how a wedding dress yellows with age. The show explores other themes outside of friendship and perseverance such as age and ageism the elder face in everyday life. For example, when Grace returns to save the company she built from the ground up, her employees fuss and handle her like glass when they discover that she’s 80 years old. Frankie takes it a step further and confronts “the man” over crosswalks not providing enough time for the older population to cross. In fact, the vibrator these ladies created came to be because the market didn’t consider the needs and the “needs” of older women. There are great reminders and inspiration for the audience, even younger generations, that age is just a number and not something that hinders progress and growth.
Implosion & Divorce
Just as you thought the title sequence (and this viewer’s argument about cake) was wrapping up *bam* the cake implodes on itself. Even after Grace and Frankie rise above their husbands’ betrayal, things still come crumbling down on them. The brilliant choice to have an implosion instead of an explosion comments on the ripple effect of divorce in families. Even when families divorce the bond remains, just in a new form. This is especially so with families with children; and even though the Hanson’s and Bergstein’s have grown adult children, their choices still have consequences that affect everyone. Imagine growing up with a man that you love as an uncle when suddenly he becomes your new stepdad. Therefore when situations among the parents become unstable, the residual effects primarily stay within and disrupt the bonds of the family. All in all, it’s still the families’ mess to clean up.
In less than a minute, Grace and Frankie‘s title sequence provides an incredibly detailed account of not only the protagonist and their personalities but also the central themes of the narrative. Having such a firm grasp of not only the story but also the characters makes it a great introduction for any viewer to pick an episode at random and feel completely immersed within the narrative: and that is nothing short of a masterpiece.
About the author: Maya Alexandria is a biracial African American poet and filmmaker who currently lives in California. She graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2020 with a degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She is the Chief Marketing Officer of Mad Mouth Poetry Inc., a poetry coalition based in California that focuses on uplifting the voices of underrepresented poets. Maya is currently working on poetry projects while studying film at NYU. In her spare time, she looks for ways to dismantle the patriarchy by painting outdoors, listening to jazz with her cat, and slaying dragons via video games.