Grace and Frankie

Only A Number

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

Indian cinema has long been notorious for its ridiculous gender gap. That fifty plus heroes are paired with heroines who are half their age (or less) even in this day and age is not something that is surprising anymore – in fact, it’s convention. The situation is just as bleak in the west, with Hollywood also afflicted by similar gender parity in both casting and in pay. It’s as if every female actress in the world comes with some kind of expiry date, after which they’re exiled to smaller, less significant roles. While films still have a long way to go, it’s heartening to note that television, or at least recent television has created a space for older female actors. More and more shows with strong women leads who don’t necessarily fit into the cookie-cutter versions of female TV characters (young, beautiful and full of first world problems) have been cropping up the past year.

Take the case of Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ll admit that despite being a huge fan, I was relieved to see the end of Sex And The City. It was painful to watch her as Carrie in the last few seasons, for she had obviously aged but was still being written like a twenty-year-old. In her newest show Divorce, however, she takes on the role of a woman struggling through a dysfunctional, middle-aged marriage. The show works because of its painful honesty, an honesty that wouldn’t have been possible without the caliber of an actress like Sarah Jessica Parker, who doesn’t just play Frances, but becomes her.

Winona Ryder, one of the eighties’ most iconic actresses, made a splash on the smaller screen by wresting all attention in Stranger Things. Her performance as the distraught small town who must make sense of the bizarre happenings that shroud her son’s disappearance made the show for me. Interestingly enough, the other character who stands apart among the varied and diverse cast of the show, is twelve-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. Brown blew me away as ‘Eleven’, a child on whom unspeakable experiments have been conducted on, and is additional proof that when it comes to being a lead, age and gender are mere constructs.

Grace and Frankie rounds off the list of my favourite shows with unconventional and (much) older female leads. This heartwarming comedy about two seventy-year-olds trying to reclaim whatever is left of their lives after their husbands declare their love for each other, resonated with me in ways I never expected it to. Given how sixty plus actresses are usually relegated to two minute roles of crazy grandmother, it’s brilliant to see 78-year-old Jane Fonda and 77-year-old Lily Tomlin light up the screen the way that they do, and have always done.

There are a few more shows that I can list with older and nuanced female leads. There’s How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis as a powerful lawyer with a turbulent life, and although I’ve stopped watching Empire, there’s really no doubt in my (or anyone else’s) mind that the life of the show is Taraji P Henson in her role as Cookie Lyon. Veep is another example of a series whose success has hinged entirely on Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ comic talent and timing.

Shows which are brave enough to go all out on a female lead are few, but it is heartening to note that there is a palpable change taking place across the film and television fraternity. One can only hope that more shows with older female leads make it to screen, after all, actresses, like fine wine, only get better as they age.

If This, Then That

A couple of days ago, I was reading about the algorithm, or the computer code that internet giants like Amazon and Netflix use to round up recommendations for their users. They’ve constantly been updating their algorithm, in order to provide better recommendations, and the name of the algorithm they use now, is called Pragmatic Chaos. I found this intensely fascinating – imagine engineers poring over complex mathematical equations to help you find the best way to burn another ten hours of your life, watching television. Pragmatic Chaos determines sixty percent of what is being watched/rented at Netflix, which is a ridiculously large number for sales that’s generated by a piece of code. Inspired by Pragmatic Chaos, and in the hope that this will contribute towards the remaining forty percent of viewing choices, here are my recommendations for what you should be watching, based on what you like.

If you like Sherlock, you will love Broadchurch: If you were to pin point to the reason for the appeal, and at times, frenzy behind the BBC’s contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, it would be Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. His accent, his lack of empathy and his cheekbones make him a character who is hard to ignore and to dislike. Broadchurch, also produced by the BBC, has a similar emotionally unavailable protagonist (with similarly high cheekbones) in detective Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant. Much like Sherlock, Broadchurch has a wonderful working partner chemistry between the leading pair (Olivia Colman who plays Ellie Miller), too. If you enjoyed Sherlock, then it’s time to make way for Broadchurch as your new favourite detective series.
{Broadchurch is presently telecast on Colors Infinity}

broadchurch, television show reviews

If you like Friends, you will love Grace and Frankie: Most of my generation grew up on Friends, and I can’t remember anyone who disliked the part hilarious, part heart warming (and part bawdy) coming of age comedy. Most of my generation is also now all grown up and facing existential crises every other day, which is why I recommend Grace and Frankie, a show about two women in their seventies whose husbands leave them for each other, and now have to navigate the single life by themselves. This show is just as heartwarming, hilarious (and bawdy) as Friends. While Friends saw a lot of us wanting to become adults and grow up overnight, Grace and Frankie will make you feel a lot better about ageing.
{Grace and Frankie is on Netflix}

If you like House of Cards, you will love Veep: If you enjoy House of Cards and Francis Underwood’s takeover of the American government, it’s probably because you either have a twisted mind that’s similar to Francis’, or because you enjoy fast-paced, and entertaining shows based on American politics. If it is indeed the latter, then you will enjoy Veep, a political comedy that is as sharp as it is silly. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is excellent as Selina Meyer, the Vice President (Veep for short) of the United States who has startlingly little power. Veep is the light to the dark that House of Cards brought to politically themed shows, and although it is very funny, do not expect it to be as entertaining as the actual American elections that are going on right now.
{Veep is being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}


New Age Comedy

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s not unusual for international television shows to explore age as one of its fundamental themes. We see shows about middle aged men and women going through sudden crisis and being forced to act on it – the first examples that come to mind are Breaking Bad and Desperate Housewives, as do we see twenty-somethings contemplating the ways in which they want to lead their lives and sort out their relationships with shows like New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Master of None, One Tree Hill and the like. In my experience of watching television, and trust me, I’ve watched a lot of television, the sixty five plus age group gets little to no attention on the screen. It’s usually a theme that’s relegated to a single episode which involves a mildly senile or dead grandparent, or a crusty evil villain who is trying to make a comeback.

To translate the sometimes-literal pains of growing old on to screen without giving the viewer a mild case of depression about the future is a veritable challenge, which Grace and Frankie has conquered admirably. Grace and Frankie is a Netflix show that brings together a veteran cast comprising Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson. Jane Fonda plays Grace, a vain retired cosmetic company CEO, and Lily Tomlin plays Frankie, a free spirited artist whose personality was given birth to in the sixties. They’re polar opposites who tolerate each other only for the sake of their husbands (Martin Sheen as Robert and Sam Waterson as Sol) who have been business partners and best friends for forty years. It is at one such “dinner” when the four of them are together that the husbands break the news to their wives that they’re leaving them, for…each other.

Grace and Frankie are forced to not only confront this bizarre new twist in their lives, but also each other. The acting in the series is marvellous. Jane Fonda’s Grace and Lily Tomlin’s Frankie (who has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role) share a special on screen chemistry as they bond, albeit grudgingly, over the sadness and fury of how their husbands now get to live happily ever after while they’ve been left alone to fend for themselves in their seventies. How Grace and Frankie take on the big bad world of senior dating, and make peace with their past (which includes adult children in various stages of complicated relationships), forms the crux of the first season.

It should be noted that although it has been listed as a “comedy”, its humour is far from the crude slapstick that it could have been, and is also more sparse than you’d expect. There are many poignant scenes through the course of the twelve episodes which make the first season, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any laughs. In the very first episode, Sol tells a furious Frankie that his life with Robert would be the “next chapter of his life”, Frankie retorts, “I’ve got news for you – the next chapter isn’t that long.” The humour of Grace and Frankie isn’t one that will make you guffaw regularly, but it will make you smile throughout.

{Grace and Frankie is available on Netflix}