Lily Tomlin & Jane Fonda Join Netflix Comedy, Proving That TV Is Finally Making Room For Women Over 50
The fact that it's tougher to find roles in Hollywood as a woman over 50 is not exactly a well-kept secret. Unless you're Meryl Streep, the field holds few opportunities for women who've crossed that age line, which is why Netflix's latest comedy is so exciting. Friends writer Marta Kaufman has created a new comedy, Grace and Frankie , specifically for Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. And not only does it sound absolutely wonderful, it stands to change things up in the TV realm.
Tomlin and Fonda, ages 74 and 76 respectively, famously starred with the Dolly Parton in the movie Nine to Five back in 1980, giving them something of an established rapport. Now, they'll be billed as rivals who are forced to deal with each other when their husbands announce they've fallen in love with each other. The plot of two sworn enemies forced into constant interaction by some outside force isn't exactly revolutionary, but it's the casting that's important. Not only is this a half-hour sitcom from Kaufman, the woman who taught us to love a gang of crazy West Village residents, it takes two respected actresses who've previously been relegated to starring in movies like Monster-in-Law and shows like Malibu Country to stay in the acting game and gives them a platform worthy of their talents.
And while the Netflix series itself is promising, considering what else we've seen from the streaming service, including but not limited to House of Cards and Orange is the New Black , it's what the series could do for women that's caught our eye: it's furthering the slow-moving shift in television programming towards an appreciation for actresses over 50.
The most notable series to accomplish the long overdue change in programming is Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, which has delivered such fresh material for Jessica Lange. Her characters are unlike any other over-50 women on television. While Downton Abbey certainly gives veteran actress Maggie Smith a plethora of top-notch one-liners, she's still relegated to a character that is expected of a woman her age: one who sits, stationary, on the sidelines and offers commentary — however hilarious that commentary may be. Lange, however, is dancing, combating sweet young things, swirling glasses of whiskey in swanky bars, and having passionate onscreen sex with a jazz musician.
Of course, not all of the material on AHS is worth praising, and there are moments in which Lange's characters have leaned a bit too heavily on the aging woman cliche, but the fact of the matter is that she's given a range of character and action that's not often seen in roles for women of a certain age. With that in mind, Grace and Frankie could open the door Lange waltzed through just a bit wider.
Placing Tomlin and Fonda at the forefront of a sitcom — with few rules, because it's Netflix after all — is a surefire recipe for comedy that doesn't sit in a safe laugh-track zone where older women bow to stereotypes for laughs. This series is a chance for more women who've crossed out of the "fresh meat" zone to prove that despite what the numbers say, there's absolutely no reason women over 50 should be less-employable in Hollywood.
Still, it would be nice if the pairing of two hilarious women on a Netflix comedy wasn't noteworthy because of their ages, but rather the fact that when it comes down to it, they're just two wildly hilarious women who deserve a great series to showcase their talents. If only.