Part of what makes Grace and Frankie so great is how low stakes the characters’ hijinks feel—even if they happen to be smuggling drugs across the border—until suddenly there’s far more at risk. The final season of Netflix’s longest-running original series has all of the frothiness and fun of the previous seasons, with one figure casting its long shadow over the main characters: their mortality.
We always knew it would come to this; after all, Grace (Jane Fonda), Frankie (Lily Tomlin), Robert (Martin Sheen), and Sol (Sam Waterston) are octogenarians now. Part of what’s made the sitcom so powerful is its realistic, uncondescending representation of seniors. Grace and Frankie confronts the challenges of growing older, as your body and mind don’t work the way they once did, but also celebrates the rich lives of our protagonists. They have sex, commit crimes, love, lose, and love again. Beyond the realities of growing older, Season 7B also allows the characters—Grace, especially—to confront past trauma and the way it’s affected their current relationships. There’s real soul-searching here.
Just because the characters are more conscious of their mortality doesn’t mean they can’t have fun, though. Season 7B sets up so many farcical plotlines that it puts Frasier to shame (and how appropriate that Frasier alums Millicent Martin and Marsha Mason appear as Joan-Margaret and Arlene, respectively). Whether Brianna (June Diane Raphael) is rushing to stop Barry’s (Peter Cambor) parents seeing her nude photos, or Grace has to trick Nick’s parole officer while also landing a deal with a toilet manufacturer, there’s plenty of silliness to go around.
The writing is also as sharp as ever. Frankie’s throwaway one-liners are gold, and the subtle background jokes (like Sol casually tossing his fork over his shoulder as Frankie bemoans old people eating Asian food with forks rather than chopsticks) make every episode a joy to behold. The supporting players elevate small moments, particularly Martin as the impish secretary Joan-Margaret and Baron Vaughn as the put-upon Bud. Martin delivers every line with a mischievous glint in her eyes, ever the devil on Frankie’s shoulder. Vaughn perfectly walks the line of being the empathetic son of two hippies and an anxiety-ridden Type A eldest child, convinced he needs to do everything just so to keep those around him happy. And he’s just hilarious to boot.
This season also boasts a bevy of killer cameos. David Proval of Sopranos fame dips in as Robert and Sol’s paranoid neighbor, Kurt Fuller as Barry’s too-wholesome father, Martin Mull (“ AHHH! GENE!”) as a gifted ghost writer, and Riki Lindhome as a gambling addict, to name a few.
That’s not to say the final dozen episodes of Grace and Frankie are flawless. Some of the subplots, particularly those of the grown Hanson and Bergstein children, feel a tad underdeveloped. Coyote’s relationship issues—which are by no means inconsequential—are essentially resolved off-screen. Brianna’s issues with Barry’s daughter appear almost out of nowhere near the end of the season (not that it’s surprising she’s not into having kids around, but there could have been more of a build-up). There’s also the fact that characters from seasons ago, like Mason’s Arlene or Frankie’s ex Jack (Michael McKean), pop up with little introduction. If your brain’s been as ravaged by the past few years as mine has, you’ll need to do a quick Google.
These missteps are negligible, though, when looking at the season as a whole. The focus on mortality in Season 7B feels like a metaphor for the series ending. Everything, whether we’re talking about a TV show or life in general, must eventually come to a close. Regardless, the connections we have with others endure beyond these endings.
Grace and Frankie’s unlikely friendship has always been the series’ lodestar, and it shines especially brightly in these episodes. The characters have earned their place as an iconic fictional pair, an odd couple turned inseparable duo. This final season will make you to turn to your Grace or Frankie and hold them even tighter.
The final season Grace and Frankie is now streaming on Netflix.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.