The Creator Of Friends Made Your New Favorite Show

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Marta Kauffman co-created a little TV show you might be familiar with called Friends, whose six main characters loom large in pop culture by first name only. Now, Kauffman is back with two more first names she'd like you to invite into your home: Grace and Frankie. They're the title characters of her newest series, which premieres today on Netflix. 

Grace and Frankie aren't like Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross, or Joey, though. Well, they actually could be, if we ever got the chance to see what happened after the six friends said goodbye to Central Perk hangs and hello to life in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. With Grace and Frankie, Kauffman and co-creator Howard J. Morris are bringing together two icons, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, to explore what happens when you have to reboot your life when you least expect it. 

Episode 1 starts with Grace and Frankie having dinner with their husbands, who have worked together at a law firm for decades. The men have an announcement to make, though: They're also lovers, and the time has come for them to leave their wives for each other. Grace and Frankie are left to pick up the pieces of their lives, and although they don't particularly like each other, they move into a shared house in Malibu because they can't share what they're going through with anyone else. It may sound like a foreign premise, but you'll quickly notice something when you watch a Marta Kauffman show: While the characters' ages and circumstances may change, the themes are universal, relatable for viewers of all ages. 

We spoke to Kauffman about teaming up with Fonda and Tomlin, the importance of friends (and Friends), and the comedy outlook for women in the age of streaming. Spoiler alert: She's every bit as lovely as you'd expect the person who created some of your best fictional pals to be.
How did Grace and Frankie come about?
"We started with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and said to ourselves, 'What would you do with these two incredible women?' Then came, 'All right, their husbands fall in love,' and ultimately, trying to figure out who were the most interesting characters that they could play against each other."

Not only are their characters very different, but they don't really like each other.
"Comedy is better with conflict. All storytelling is better when there’s conflict. It raises the stakes, it’s more interesting; it’s more exciting, you get to care more. A TV show would be boring if they were just good buddies."

Grace and Frankie need each other now, though.
"You also rediscover your friends in a different way, especially in a divorce. That’s such a divorce thing: Which friend goes with him, which friends go with her? Feeling the shame of not knowing your husband was gay all those years, who do you want to see and who don’t you want to see? What’s intriguing to me about the show is that these two women don’t like each other, but they're the only ones who understand."

On Friends, they came to us as a prepackaged unit, but it's not easy to make that type of friend as an adult — nor do we often see it played out on a show.
"I don’t know how many of us can say that we made incredibly deep friendships past a certain point in our lives. The friends that we hang on to are from high school and college and when your kids were in school. Once your kids grow up, finding a new forever friend is very difficult to do. You have the same group of friends forever, and that’s great, but [Grace and Frankie] are women who have to find and develop new friendships with one who’s sort of closed off and doesn’t know how to open her heart, and the other one who wears her heart on her sleeve. They have to navigate their way into friendship. "

Did you specifically focus on this being the story of two women?
"I think in general, TV — and comedy, specifically — has always leaned towards men. Yeah, so, it was an exciting thing, and also that’s what I want to explore. I think I can write better for women because I am one, and I’m going through the same stuff [many of us face]. It’s not that I can’t write for men, but that’s where my interest lies. I’m a feminist."

Grace and Frankie is very honest and real about portraying life as a woman in her 70s.
"Look, the aging baby boomers are the largest segment of the population, and there's nothing that explores who they are. There’s nothing that [looks at] all the things that go with aging, like vaginal dryness, and what happens when you have to start your life over in your 70s. It’s different than when you’re in your 20s, or 30s, or 40s."

Even though the characters are older, does it share any foundational elements with Friends?
"There’s a lot of wonderful comedy on TV, but it’s cold. It’s a little mean; it’s a little dark. I missed a warmer show. That was our hope — that Grace and Frankie had a little more warmth, and that it’s aspirational. I think that’s what people liked about Friends, too. Grace and Frankie is a show about women who do start their lives over — and it’s not that it’s easy — but what’s aspirational is the idea that you can start over at any time. I’m not sure that Transparent, which is an excellent, excellent show, is aspirational. Or Girls, for that matter."

Do you find that a whole new audience is discovering Friends now that it’s on Netflix?
"Yes, totally. My youngest daughter is 16, and she and her friends are too young to know Friends. I mean, she used to come to set when she was a baby, but that was it. Her friends are discovering it, and that’s kind of cool. One of my greatest joys in life is that the show holds up. Yeah, the phones are the size of a pillow, and the haircuts [laughs], but it holds up."

But, you've spoken out firmly against a reunion many, many times.
"It’s not that it probably will never happen, it will never happen...and it shouldn’t. That was a show about the time in your life when your friends were your family. Once you have family of your own, life changes."
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Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
You've also talked about misogyny behind the scenes and how smart, driven women are perceived as tough (in a negative way) by the industry. Have things changed?
"My experience at Netflix is very different, but I’m also working with a lot of women. I decided to start a company where we would develop, and it’s very woman-centric. So, my experience right now is a very positive one. There are a lot more women showrunners than there used to be, on the other hand, than there were 20 years ago. So, I think for some of us, it’s changed, but not for everybody."

Does the Grace and Frankie writers' room reflect a broader scope of experiences and perspectives?
"Oh my god, it’s so awesome, yes. Our youngest writers are in their 20s, all the way up to close to 60. Isn’t that awesome?...We have such a wide range of experience in that room."

Are there any topics you won’t cover or places you won’t go?
"You know, there’s no place you can’t go, but there are certain places we don’t want to go, primarily because these are very elegant actors. There’s no need, for example, to make Martin Sheen get naked. Netflix would let me, but there’s no need for it. That’s just a silly example, but I think it illustrates the point that there’s no boundary that they’ve given us, but we have our own boundaries. We can talk about vaginal dryness and lubrication, and they can smoke pot and do peyote. They can talk about their clitoris, but I don’t need to see it."

You seem more focused on authenticity.
"There’s a moment where Grace is preparing to get into bed with a man, and she’s looking in the mirror, she’s in her little negligee. She holds up her arms and sees the dangling skin, and to me, that’s one of those moments that you don’t see very often — a woman like Jane Fonda, not loving her body. That, to me, is braver and more interesting than seeing her ass."

Season 1 of Grace and Frankie is on Netflix now.
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