Tortoise Tuesday: The Scholarly Wisdom of Grace and Frankie

Most recently on my queue of bingeable Netflix shows has been Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. In the television comedy, two recently divorced women in their late seventies kindle an unlikely friendship. Grace is a high-powered entrepreneur obsessed with her appearance, taking great care to strut around daily in pantsuits and stilettos despite her age. On the flip side, Frankie, clad in heavy clogs and baggy trousers, is the exact opposite, centering her life on grassroots activism and psychedelic drugs.

From its onset, the show draws on the stark dichotomy between the two women to stir up punchy comedy. Each woman continually badmouths the other, complaining about what they each perceive as immoral behavior. Stuck living in the same beach house, Grace and Frankie scheme about how to remove the other from the property. 

In a similar vein, scholarly motive is often set up in the hopes of pitting two authors together. Mark Gaipa’s Breaking into the Conversation labels the fifth scholarly motive strategy presented as “Playing Peacemaker.” For this setup, an author steps in to identify a conflict between two scholars before resolving it. To effectively execute this strategy, writers are tasked with first finding two scholars at odds with one another. 

However, issues arise when writers morph their scholarly sources into a heightened state of antagonism. In an effort to create a more compelling “disagreement” between two scholarly sources, students may feel compelled to construct a “straw man” argument for their sources, interpreting their two arguments to be more contradictory to each other than they are intended to be. In other words, the writer might unfairly pit two scholars against each other, making it easier for the author to “swoop in” heroically to resolve an imaginary tension.

Similarly, Grace and Frankie begins by presenting our two protagonists as bitter enemies. However, as the show progresses, both the audience and the two women begin to realize that differences in life priorities and personalities do not need to translate into antagonism. By the end of the first episode, Grace accidentally ingests Frankie’s peyote, leading to a beautiful scene where the two women open up about their shared hopes for the future.

The show has recently wrapped up its final episode, having lasted for an impressive 7 seasons. Part of the longevity and continued enjoyment of Grace and Frankie is owed to the framing of the relationship not as an antagonistic stand-off, but as a slow exploration of two very different individuals grounded by their love and friendship for each other. Similarly, when setting up two scholarly sources to introduce a tension, it can be more fruitful to honestly explore the differences and similarities between two scholars. A great paper will acknowledge the delicate nuances between them instead of forcing an antagonistic conflict.

–Diane Yang, ’23

The author

Writing Center