4:30 pm EST, January 18, 2018

‘Grace and Frankie’ season 4 review: Lots of laughs, less heart

By Erica Ostergar | Edited by Donya Abramo

Grace and Frankie season 4 has Lisa Kudrow and lots of laughs, but it’s missing a little of the heart that made previous seasons so special.

Grace and Frankie season 4 picks up a few months after the events of the season 3 finale. Frankie is spending time with Jacob in Santa Fe. Bud and his girlfriend Alison are preparing for their baby. And Grace? She’s got a fun, new roommate.

Related: Grace and Frankie: What two women in their 70s taught me about living in my 20s

Lisa Kudrow plays Grace’s roommate, Sheree, in a multi-episode arc this season. She is one of the best parts of the early episodes. Kudrow has a way of playing quirky characters without making them feel like caricatures. Sheree is real, dynamic, and flawed. She is also easy to love.

Kudrow’s performance brings out new humor in the characters. She brings out different layers in Jane Fonda’s portrayal of Grace, especially. Grace is softened in ways by Sheree. She also brings about the best story in the season when Grace and Frankie break into her deceased husband’s house.

Though she’s only around for a few episodes, she made the show even funnier and delivered some of the most heartfelt moments this season experienced. She gave something new to the show that has relied on the same relationships for so long.

grace and frankie season 4

Grace and Frankie’s relationship has a different dynamic in season 4. Part of that comes from the new roommate, Sheree, and part of that comes from Frankie’s time in Santa Fe. Even when those story lines are resolved, the dynamic between the two women stays markedly different.

They’re much more loving and supportive now than they have been in previous seasons. They’ve had many more shared experiences over the past few years and they’ve come to really care for each other instead of merely tolerate each other. It’s a natural evolution for them, but it also takes away some of their odd couple charm.

They still bicker — how could they not? — but the characters have grown. It’s the kind of shift you likely wouldn’t see in a network version of this show. This character growth is quintessentially Netflix, which allows its shows room to breathe and grow. It is an adjustment, but I think it is a welcome change. Seeing characters learn and grown makes them more real and meaningful.

Because Grace and Frankie are getting along so well, the drama this season comes from other relationships. Grace and Frankie season 4 shows a lot of fights between Robert and Sol. While the change in dynamic between Grace and Frankie feels natural, this change feels like a regression for Robert and Sol. How did they get along in a relationship for so many years if the simplest things are tearing them apart now?

Their fights are a mark of a bigger problem with Grace and Frankie season 4. Despite the growth with Grace and Frankie as characters, the other characters feel more flat this season. A lot of the heart that made the show so charming in the first few seasons is missing this season.

grace and frankie season 4

There are lots of opportunities for emotional moments. Some of them land perfectly. I’m not afraid to admit I shed a tear or two while watching. Many of the other moments don’t allow for the emotional release I expected from the stories. The supporting characters aren’t allowed to grow and change like our leading ladies. That stagnation made this season more of a traditional comedy than one that relies on real relationships for heart and humor.

All that said, Grace and Frankie is just as fun as ever. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin continue to deliver some of the best comedic performances on TV. There isn’t an episode where I didn’t find myself laughing a little too loudly. Grace’s one line zingers feel especially sharp this season.

Grace and Frankie season 4 set up story lines that I think can deliver the emotional performances I want from the supporting characters in seasons to come. I hope we get to see them, because Grace and Frankie is a true delight to watch.

‘Grace and Frankie’ season 4 drops on Netflix January 19

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