We are big Netflix fans out here. David and I can binge with the best of them. To the point that we will rarely even get involved with a show that has fewer than two seasons, because why get invested? However two of Netflix’s original series caught our eye – Grace and Frankie and Sense8 - and we thought we’d check them out.
Talk about a juxtaposition.
Grace and Frankie is about two hetero couples in their 60s or early 70s (the actors are Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston, and Martin Sheen, so their age). The men have been business partners and best friends for decades. The women tolerate each other for their husbands. The four of them are meeting for dinner when the men drop the bombshell that they are in love, that they have been a couple for at least 20 years, and now that they can get married, they want to do so. The husbands are leaving the wives for each other.
Now, I know that this is a scenario that plays itself out in real life, so I don’t object to the subject. But as the episode went on, it became obvious that the men were going to be The Bad Guys and the women were going to be The Ones We Root For.
The focus was entirely on the women’s pain. The men felt guilty – but not by much. The women were being painted as having everything ripped from them, while the men were going to ride off into the sunset together.
Except that it isn’t that easy. It’s never that easy. As someone who was the one to ask for the divorce (previously, David and I are still deliriously happy in our little bubble), there is no easy riding off into the sunset without a care in the world. As the man who had to tell his wife he was gay (previously, I knew from the beginning), the pain David experienced was no small thing. Between the two of us, we were these two characters in our previous marriages – and it was nowhere close to as easy as Grace and Frankie would have you believe.
Now, full disclosure, the show may get better. I couldn’t get through the first episode. It was too one-sided, and too…wrong. Too false and too painful in its refusal to see both sides of the story, to ready to paint the men as the bad guys.
Then there was Sense8. Interestingly enough, I’d heard really good things about Grace and Frankie and so-so things about Sense8, so I wasn’t as excited about this one.
Was I ever wrong. The plot is a bit convoluted, and may not read well, but there are eight people who are connected telepathically. Why? Who are they? What’s going on? No one knows, not even them. But they can talk and visit and jump into each other’s bodies. It’s a cool set up if you like that kind of thing (which I do).
But what makes it worth writing about here is the fact that there are a transgender woman who is part of a lesbian couple and a closeted but partnered gay man as some of the main characters. Needless to say, their lives aren’t easy. They’re a transgender lesbian, a closeted gay man, and their respective partners for heaven’s sake – those are not easy people to be, no matter what social media would want you to believe.
And yet…in this science fiction world, they are treated more realistically than the men in the “realistic” Grace and Frankie. They are allowed to be whole characters. And yes, they screw up and they hurt people and they make mistakes. But they are not cookie cutter Bad Guys. They are well-rounded, nuanced characters that we feel for and root for and come to care about. They are the kind of representation that matters.
So, I highly recommend Sense8. It makes for a great binge night or two. As for Grace and Frankie – if you choose to watch it, do so knowing the first episode is tough. If you make it through more, I’d love to know what you think. As for me, I think I’ll stick to well-developed characters and leave the stock bad guys to someone else.
Until next month, Poppets, take care of you – and each other.