Gerontology faculty cited in Wall Street Journal article about Grace and Frankie

Suzanne Kunkel and Kate de Medeiros share their perspectives on the show's portrayal of aging.

What 'Grace and Frankie' Gets Right--and Wrong--About Retirement

The Netflix series portrays a lifestyle that older people could learn from, even if they can’t always identify with it


Less than three minutes into an episode of the hit Netflix series "Grace and Frankie," Grace has reached for pain medication and a bottle of vodka. Frankie has announced that she’s high and looking forward to watching "Longmire" with her boyfriend. By the end of the episode, Grace’s boyfriend has gone home, and Frankie has broken up with hers. The two women, both over 70 and divorced, meet up at home to talk it out.


Suzanne Kunkel and Kate de MedeirosExperts we spoke to say that the broad strokes used in the series, which returns for a fifth season next year, portray a lifestyle in retirement that is by turns something to aspire to and not, a picture both realistic and not.


The luxurious lifestyle, says Suzanne Kunkel, executive director of the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio, isn’t close to reality for most retirees.

"The show does portray some common themes related to aging in a really good way, but these aren’t common circumstances," says Dr. Kunkel, who has a Ph.D. in sociology and demographics. "My concern is that not everyone has the opportunity to live the way that Grace and Frankie get to live in terms of financial security and real estate and things like that. They’re not typical older people in that way, that’s for sure."


The idea of aging well is to be applauded. But the show takes that too far for some tastes.

"Jane Fonda’s had how much plastic surgery?" asks Kate de Medeiros, a professor of gerontology at Miami University. "They have cosmetically worked at not appearing old," she says. Dr. de Medeiros’s primary beef with the show is that its stars have gone to great lengths to mask the physical signs of aging. Not only are expensive antiaging treatments unrealistic for most retirees, but also "it sends a message that to age well you have to pretend you’re not aging or hide everything," she says. "Then people can say: 'Oh, wow, she's really aging well.' And what they really mean is, 'Oh, well, she doesn’t look like she’s aged.'

"You shouldn’t feel embarrassed because you have wrinkles," Dr. de Medeiros says. "You shouldn’t feel like you can’t go out because you have gray hair."