Grace Notes — Netflix’s ‘Grace & Frankie’

I spent much of my free time over the last week binge watching the first season of the new Netflix comedy Grace & Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. There are 13 episodes, each just a little bit better than the last.

Here’s the set up, in case you haven’t heard of this already: Grace (Fonda) is married to Robert (Martin Sheen). Frankie (Tomlin) is married to Sol (Sam Waterston). Robert and Sol are law partners. Grace and Frankie tolerate each other on their best days, Robert and Sol confess to Grace and Frankie that they’ve been having an affair — with each other! — for the last 20 years. And that’s your set up.

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Waterston, Tomlin, Fonda and Sheen are the talented quartet that lead the superlative new Netflix series Grace and Frankie. |Image: Indiewire.

It’s a fairly straightforward sitcom fish-out-of-water plot, albeit with a modern twist, and in the hands of average actors, the material — which is, by the by, crisply and tightly written — would do just fine, but this is an example of what happens when you hand a script to a quartet of the finest actors you can imagine and just let them run with it.

Fonda and Tomlin haven’t lost a beat since they last acted together in 9 to 5 three and a half decades ago, Tomlin is as gifted today as she was on Laugh-In the 1960s. There is such a dearth of good, meaty roles for older women and this show is the perfect example of what can happen when good material ends up in the hands of women who can show you how it’s supposed to be done. They are such a pleasure to watch. There are plenty of good scenes in this show, but the two-handers with Tomlin and Fonda, well, you feel like you are peeking in on something truly special. And you are.

And another thing: Jane Fonda is 77 years old. She is, without a doubt, the sexiest 77-year-old in the world. Luminous. Utterly and completely luminous.

I saw an early notice where the writer said that Sheen and Waterston seemed uncomfortable with the physicality of their roles. After seeing a few episodes, I went back to that. This person is not an older gay man, I concluded. And I was right: the author was a young woman.

Granted, Sheen and Waterston have a few decades on me, but I absolutely see the truth in these men, who have finally come to terms with who they are so late in life. It is not yet fluid to them. They are very affectionate, but a bit more reserved, a bit more tentative. They have lived through a time when showing too much affection was a recipe for a beating. Or death. I understand their reserve more than people younger than I, but I also cannot comprehend the terror that that generation faced. They are effortless, exceptional performers and I think this is the best, most authentic portrayal of older gay men we’ve yet seen on television.

The first thirteen are not tied up in a pretty bow. There’s a bittersweet little twist at the end of the last episode. There are belly laughs aplenty, but this show is much deeper than a traditional sitcom. There are places where hard subjects are tackled and the drama that informs the comedy is allowed to play out. It’s a smart, smart series. I wouldn’t expect anything less from this bunch.

So, do yourself a favor, watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks, Petteri Paavola

Petteri Paavola, in case you are not in the know, is a young man who has played the role of Elias Vikstedt in the Finnish soap opera Salatut Elämät for the last four years.

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Ronny Roslof (left) and Petteri Paavola portrayed lovers Lari and Elias — known by fans worldwide by the portmanteau Larias — on the Finnish sudser. Roslof remains on the show, his once-closeted character is now in an out relationship with an older man.

He announced recently that he was leaving the show and the character was written out, having headed to Belgium to live with his mother. It’s not known at this time if he will return.

The relationship between Elias and Lari captivated audiences around the globe, thanks to YouTube and the good offices of MissFinlandia88, the handle of the dedicated YouTuber who subtitled these clips in English — and even got the show’s blessing to do it.

What do I care? Well, a post I wrote about Salatut Elämät in January 2013 has been the most-read piece on this site for two years running. Go figure. Who knew gay Finnish soap opera characters would bring so much of the world to me?

If you don’t come back — or even if you do, — thanks, Petteri. I’ve enjoyed meeting so many of your fans!

The Infamous Most-Read Post

So Long, Larias – The Last Post

Love Songs (In The Key of Gallagher): Wrenching Coda to Another Perfect, Discordant, Improbable Season of TV’s Best Show

Let’s just put it out there: who’s happy with the button that was placed on the epic #Gallavich love story at the end of season five of Showtime’s Shameless, in the episode perfectly named “Love Songs (in the Key of Gallagher).” Can I see a show of hands? Huh, none. Okay.

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Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher in Season 5 Episode 10, “Southside Rules,” of Shameless |Photo: Chuck Hodes/SHOWTIME

Well, let’s not keep bantering back and forth with what if’s. Lay that one at the feet of Noel Fisher. According to show exec John Wells in the Hollywood Reporter:

[I]t’s really a decision for Noel to make. He was going to do a movie and wasn’t prepared to sign on for another year, so I have to check back in with him in a few months and see. He has a very thriving film career, and we really just hired him for a few episodes when we started, but we keep expanding it, and he always comes back when he’s available. So, some of where the characters end up will be dictated by availability, but it [also] may be an interesting time for Ian to discover how important Mickey was in his life. It’s that thing that often happens when you’re younger: you have a relationship that’s really difficult and passionate and messy, and then you go away from it and you discover the rest of the world, and sometimes you come back to that first person anyway.

Look, let’s be practical. I love Noel Fisher. LOVE HIM. He has a talent that takes my breath away. He is so good as Mickey Milkovich — his electric chemistry with Cameron Monaghan notwithstanding — that he leaps off the screen. But, he’s a young man with a big future. He’s a Ninja Turtle (and I don’t mean that figuratively); he’s filming the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie soon and it looks like it will conflict with Shameless.

And you can moan and cry and gnash your teeth all you want, but if YOU had the chance to make a Hollywood blockbuster, you’d do it too. If Noel can come back and Mickey can be put back into the narrative in a meaningful way, I’ll be at the front of the cheering section, but if he can’t, well, there’s never, ever — EVER — been any sentimentality in Shameless. It’s what we love about it. And it never set out to make you happy.

Here’s the thing: thank Noel and Cam for creating a couple that transcended sexuality, that transcended norms, that showed the world that sometimes what makes you fall in love is finding the person you need to find to find yourself, to find your place in the world, to find out how to understand the world just a little bit. Sometimes it lasts, sometimes it doesn’t, but almost always, it is utterly and completely unforgettable.

“I like the way he smells.”
—Season 4, Episode 11

#Gallavich

RECENT OTHER #GALLAVICH POSTS: Team Gallavich          Shamelessly Looking for Something Else

Christopher Sean and Seeing More Asian Men On Television

Excellent interview with Christopher Sean on BuzzFeed:

The Actor Who Is Changing How We See Asian Men On Television.

Sean has been making waves on daytime television as a spanner thrown in the works for Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis, the first gay married couple on NBC’s Days of our Lives. Sean is a terrific actor and has terrific chemistry with both Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson, who play Will and Sonny. I think the introduction of Sean has reinvigorated the Will and Sonny storyline and has created an additional cheering section rooting for Sean and either of the guys, but especially Sonny.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis' Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver's death was central to the plot of the show's finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Something similar happened in the now-iconic Luke/Noah pairing on As The World Turns. When the writers introduced Eric Sheffer Stevens as Dr. Reid Oliver, his chemistry with Van Hansis as Luke Snyder was palpable and it upset the fandom applecart in quite unexpected ways. In fact, ATWT’s headwriter at the time, Jean Passanante, noted that if the show had not already been cancelled that the actors’ chemistry could have easily led the writers to create a longterm romantic triangle. By the time the show came to an end — in qintessential soapy fashion when Reid was killed by a train but lived long enough to make sure his heart was donated to save the life of Chris Hughes (don’t ya love it! LOL) — the Nuke (Noah and Luke) and the LuRe (Luke and Reid) camps were already being drawn up.

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. |Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. When Paul came out to his Japanese grandfather on air, he spoke to him only in Japanese.|Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

On Days, Sean’s recently out ex-pro baseball player Paul Norita, has already slept with Will, saved Sonny’s life and it looks like he’s about to be exposed as Will’s grandmother’s stepson! Oh, did I forget to mention he’s Sonny’s ex as well? It’s a lot of soapy froth and I get a kick out of it. Sean’s chemistry with Smith was noticeable from their first scenes and Team WilSon (Will and Sonny) and Team PaulSon (Paul and Sonny) are already getting their standards made.

I am a hardcore member of Team WilSon, but I do love what Sean brings to the table. He’s a great addition to the cast and I love that he’s moving the needle on bringing more hues to a too-white canvas. And, dammit all, he is NOT hard to look at either!

Shamelessly Looking for Something Else: Real Talk About Pay TV Gays

HBO announced today that it was pulling the plug on its sophomore drama, Looking. The network says it will button the series with a movie.

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Frankie J. Alvarez, Jonathan Groff and Murray Bartlett were the original trio at the center of HBO’s “Looking,” which was cancelled at the end of its second season. |Image: HBO

I’ve had a rocky relationship with Looking ever since it debuted. I wrote some critical things about it when it originally aired and I wrote it a love note later on in its first season. I was excited about the second series but, with a few exceptions, the season left me cold.

It’s puzzling. I love Jonathan Groff as a performer. He’s a very easy, very natural actor. Russell Tovey was always that Brit that no one else knew and who left me gobsmacked every time I saw him. Raul Castillo I didn’t know pre-Looking, but I found him to be a lovely performer; smart, nuanced. And in spite of all of it’s positive elements, I just didn’t care enough about the main characters. And that was Looking’s Achilles Heel, I suppose,

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Daniel Franzese and Frankie J. Alvarez assayed a lovely, memorable plot about love and redemption told with humor and honesty — and a little something in the eye. It was the highlight of Season 2 of “Looking.” |Image: HBO

I found Groff’s character, Patrick Murray, as written, a self-absorbed, self-critical, immature stereotype. There was nothing there to like. Nothing there to root for. I mean, were we supposed to urge him to leave his lovely, smart new boyfriend (Castillo) to become the boy-toy of his boss, Kevin (Tovey), whose relationship he broke up? Were we supposed to feel for him when Kevin announced he’d like to try an open relationship on the day that they moved in together? No. You weren’t man enough to date the nice barber who you were really into because of some misplaced post-suburban narcissism since you felt deep down that he wasn’t good enough for your pampered lily-white ass. No. And no, thanks.

I was far and away more interested in the season’s B-plot: the redemption of Patrick’s roommate Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and his blossoming romance with HIV+ bear Eddie, played to a fair-the-well by the extraordinary Daniel Franzese. If the whole series had been half as interesting as this storyline, I would be mobilizing the mob protesting its cancellation.

But, I just don’t care enough. Besides, I’m too busy obsessing over Shameless, Showtime’s powerhouse  what? — comedy — drama? — dramedy? — tragicomedy? — television theatre of the absurd? Whatever the hell it is, this defiantly unclassifiable show is like nothing else on television.

And there’s such a level of authenticity in the heartbreak and the love and the yearning of these characters — even in the most twisted of situations — that it makes you care for them on a visceral level. Never got that from Looking.

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Fans refer to them as #Gallavich. Cameron Monaghan is Ian Gallagher and Noel Fisher is Mickey Milkovich, perhaps the most improbable couple in the improbable world of Showtime’s “Shameless.” | Image: Showtime

When Shameless put Ian Gallagher and Mickey Milkovich together in the first season, there was no indication that they would become one of great television romances of all time. There’s been a lot of talk over the years of the stellar talents of young Cameron Monaghan as Ian, the instigator of this relationship and his nuanced development of the character over five seasons — and trust me, this takes nothing away from his electric talent — but the real unsung hero of this show is Noel Fisher, who brings a depth and beauty to Mickey that almost takes your breath away. There is a pathos there that can physically make you ache. Also, he’s funny as shit.

Here’s the thing: in lesser hands — with lesser writers, with lesser directors and with lesser actors, Shameless had the potential to become an absolute pile, but it didn’t. Instead, it became one of America’s most memorable series ever. (Thanks, Great Britain!) Warts, fistfights, evil newfound daughters, absent mothers, drugs, ‘hand whores,’ Sheila Jackson’s collection of dildos, and all.

To me, Patrick and Kevin’s story has been told a million times and I just don’t care anymore. Ian and Mickey’s story you’ve never seen and that’s what keeps me glued to the pay cable. It’s fresh and alive and a little dangerous.

See, I don’t want to have a cocktail with Patrick Murray in a trendy San Francisco bar, but I’d have an Old Style with Mickey Milkovich any day of the week.

It’s not the safe, politically correct thing to do. And that’s why I like it better.

Team Gallavich

I hope to God you’re watching Shameless, the knockout Showtime series that is halfway through its fifth season on the premium cable network. If you’re not: start.

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Noel Fisher (with gun) and Cameron Monaghan play improbable couple Mickey Milkovich and Ian Gallagher in the Showtime series Shameless. The couple’s fans use the portmanteau “Gallavich.”

Shameless, based on the long-running U.K. series of the same name, tells the story of the Gallagher clan of Chicago’s South Side. Led by alcoholic single dad, Frank (William H. Macy), the Gallagher children have mostly raised themselves, with the help of oldest sibling Fiona (Emmy Rossum) acting as surrogate parent in place of actual mom, bi-polar Monica, who comes and goes as the mood strikes.

This is a brutal show. This is a comic show. This is a bleak show. This is a whip-smart show. And this show is often hard to watch. It’s about the most astonishing thing on television right now. And what drives it for me is the relationship between Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) and neighbor Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher).

At the beginning of the series, teenaged Ian comes out to his older brother ‘Lip,’ and soon begins a relationship with Mickey, scion of a family that makes the Gallaghers look normal. Actually, relationship is entirely the wrong word. What Ian and Mickey do is have sex. Often brutal, often carnal, often animalistic, but love doesn’t enter into it. Mickey, at this point, may not even be capable of love. Ian is, however, and he slowly begins to fall for Mickey.

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Ian and Mickey after getting beaten up in a bar fight by Mickey’s father after Mickey comes out in Season 4 of Showtime’s “Shameless.”

Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher have tremendous chemistry and their performances have grown throughout the show. It’s been terrific to watch these young actors sink their teeth into this dense, layered material and see what they do with it.

Through twists and turns and near-death experiences, Ian and Mickey’s relationship slowly begins to shift. Ian slowly begins to change Mickey and Mickey slowly begins to realize that he is capable of love, of caring for another man, of loving Ian, but he doesn’t know what to do with that. It is information that he can’t process. He couldn’t even say the word gay in reference to himself, even though he was desperate for the physicality of the tenuous bond with Ian.

Season 4 is lovely because Ian keeps making demands of Mickey and each time Mickey refuses before almost immediately acquiescing and at the end of the season, Mickey finally comes out, announcing to the patrons at the local bar, “I want everyone to know, I’m fucking gay. A big old ‘mo.” He does it because Ian was going to walk away. He did it for love, to protect the one thing that he loved in the world, the one person who dared to love him. And then he immediately got beaten to a pulp by his father.

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Gallavich fans have created astonishing fan art. This piece is by Steorie.

But, Mickey was free and, because this is Shameless, his happiness lasted basically until the next morning when he awoke to Ian’s descent into the bi-polar abyss, a gift from his unstable mother. When he learns from Fiona what is likely wrong with Ian and that Ian may need to be hospitalized, Mickey is adamant: no hospital. He will take care of him. The tables have turned. It is now Mickey’s turn to be the strong one because, thanks to Ian, he now knows what it means to love and be loved.

Again, it’s Shameless, there’s no Pollyanna-ish moments coming. In Season 5, Ian’s bi-polar disorder makes him spiral further and further out of control. Finally, at the mid-point of the season, Mickey realizes that Ian needs more help than he can give him and he and Lip and Fiona convince Ian to commit himself. Like everything else, expect Shameless to confront mental illness head-on and without, well, shame.

Watching Mickey say goodbye to Ian and let him go into the mental hospital will simply rip you apart. Noel Fisher gives one of the most raw and most truthful performances I’ve ever seen on television in that scene. He’s utterly magnificent.

Back in Ye Olde Timey Times, the theatre where I worked was the most prolific producer of the plays of George F. Walker in the U.S. George is a Canadian playwright. He writes savage plays, hilarious plays and plays with characters that you never see on stage. He always said he wrote about a group of people he called “the articulate poor.” These are people, he said, that exist in every corner of the world, but we don’t put them onstage. And if we do, we seldom understand their reality or their needs. Just because you don’t have money, George argued, doesn’t mean you don’t have big ideas, dreams, knowledge, desires, wants. (George is the reason that I unequivocally believe Shakespeare was a glover’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon and not that bullshit about the Earl of Oxford.)

He also said that his characters never have subtext because the poor don’t have time for subtext. Everything is right here, right now. Only the rich can recline and ponder. And perhaps what I love most about Shameless is that there is no damn subtext. It’s all: right here, right now, what the fuck is that?, Jesus Christ move already.

The back six of the 12-episode fifth season begins to air on Showtime on March 1. You should watch it. I will be; right down front in the #gallavich section.

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HBO To Launch Standalone Streaming Service

Finally, a major cable player who has seen the light. More will follow, I’m sure.

HBO is cutting the cord.The company announced on Wednesday that it will launch a standalone streaming video service in the U.S. that will allow you to watch HBO programming without paying for an expensive cable subscription.

via HBO To Launch Standalone Streaming Service Next Year.