‘Will and Grace’ Is Back, and It’s the Perfect TV Comfort Food We Need Right Now
I’ll be the first to admit I rolled my eyes when news of a Will & Grace revival first broke. As much as I loved the show growing up, what place would it have in our current TV landscape of single-camera comedies, anthology series, and streaming? The NBC sitcom was groundbreaking in its day; it’s the show that changed the way many Americans perceived the gay community, even good ol’ Joe Biden. But with so much progress around LGBTQ representation since the sitcom’s 1998 debut, with shows featuring complex portraits of queer minorities and trans storylines, wouldn’t a straight white woman and her gay best friend look dated?
Those were my initial reservations, fearing that my fond memories of the NBC series would sour if the show’s zany quartet was dropped into the present day. But not all TV revivals are regrettable, and this may be the best one yet. Will & Grace is back with gusto and wit in a new set of episodes that proves that while times have changed, truly great comedy doesn’t age.
The first episode, which premieres Thursday night on NBC, wastes no time updating the series to the modern day, opening on the foursome playing a game of Heads Up! “He’s a man, but he’s aged into a lesbian,” Eric McCormack’s Will quizzes Debra Messing’s Grace. “Steven Tyler! Jon Voight! Newt Gingrich!” she shouts. The pair rattle off a few more pop culture references to reorient themselves to the 2017 zeitgeist, with funny quips about the sleaziness of Grindr and the frustratingly unlikable Caitlyn Jenner. But before it gets too far ahead of itself in the present, Will & Grace makes sure to address its past.
series Season 8 two-parter finale, with that odd time-jump that found Will and Grace married (not to each other), and their kids, Laila and Ben, meeting at college and marrying one another? Creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick have said Will and Grace as parents wouldn’t make for a very fun or interesting revival series, so they nixed that original finale, and in quite a crafty way. Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker, frozen with a martini in hand, snaps out of a vodka/pills-induced comatose state to announce she’s just has a terrible dream where Will and Grace were parents. After recapping the finale, Will reassures her (and us) none of it actually happened. “What a relief!” Karen squeals. “Nobody wants to see you two raise kids.”
Will gives her a quick rapid-fire update on their lives – no, Will and Grace aren’t still living together, but Grace is crashing there for a while, and yes, Karen is still rich and her husband Stan (remember when he “died”?) is still alive. Sean Hayes’ Jack turns to the camera – “Got it?” he says with a cutesy smile. But don’t worry, Will & Grace isn’t pulling a creepy Fuller House; Jack is just posing for Grace to snap his new Grindr profile pic. The opener is hilarious, clever, and playful in all the ways that made the NBC sitcom so unique in the first place.
The original Will & Grace‘s DNA is all over the new episodes. It’s still got its snappy comedic timing, still shot in traditional multi-cam with a laugh track, and it still manages to weave in genuine human moments amid the madcap shenanigans. It’s rippled with classic sitcom scenarios and one-liners that had me laughing out loud, from Karen and Grace trapped inside an overflowing shower (an homage to a classic bit from The Lucy Show) to Jack and Will dancing to Madonna’s “Borderline.” It’s total comfort food, and exactly the type of joyous and nourishing comedy that made the original series so beloved. While watching the new episodes I nearly forgot I was watching 2017 Will & Grace and felt like I was back in high school watching an afternoon marathon on Logo. And while there’s an undeniable nostalgic quality to the new season – how can there not be? – it’s hardly a crutch for Kohan and Mutchnick.
That isn’t to say there aren’t bumps along the way, particularly when the new season attempts to position the show in the present moment with “something to say.” The season premiere is all about Trump, and while a political storyline makes sense considering the revival’s origins with last November’s Get-Out-and-Vote special, the episode tries a little too hard to remind us how woke it is. The episode goes to absurd lengths to comment on hypocritical self-interested liberals when Grace takes a job redecorating the Oval Office (uh huh, sure) despite her hatred of Trump, and Will pursues a hot, but controversial right-wing congressman. The scenario is too far-fetched, even for Will & Grace. If the next two seasons of the revival are intent on remaining loyal to an anti-Trump stance, the show would do best to keep its political humor tied to one-liners and Karen, who reveals she’s “besties with Melania,” rather than full-fledged storylines.
Don’t let that first episode deter you though; Will & Grace‘s second half-hour is much better. In “Who’s Your Daddy,” Jack is recovering from a horrendous realization – after a night at a gay bar he discovers he’s no longer a cute twink, but a daddy now. The episode is all about aging and the generational divide in the gay male community, and it works because it does the opposite of the premiere episode: Acts its own age. While Jack goes to delightfully ridiculous extremes to appear younger by sporting an infant-sized body suit, Will goes on a date with a 23-year-old (Dear Even Hanson‘s Ben Platt).
It’s a great display of Hayes’ still-impeccable timing, but it also offers a meta message about the significance of Will & Grace. When Will’s hot young date says he has no idea what Stonewall is and criticizes older gays for being dramatic, Will launches into a speech about the importance of recognizing our queer forefathers and mothers. Though that could easily come off preachy and didactic, McCormack delivers it with just the right balance of earnestness and humor. It’s a nice reminder that while Will & Grace’s progressivism might seem dated in today’s political landscape, it’s still important to remember that it helped pave the way for queer acceptance in pop culture.
(That being said, there are expectations for the revival to catch up with current conversations around LGBTQ rights, especially the oft-ignored “T” in the original eight seasons. A show that’s only about privileged white cisgender gay men and their wealthy white straight friends won’t fly in today’s landscape, and Kohan and Mutchnick have a responsibility to add more diversity to their revival, and diversity that actively transcends stereotypes.)
If Will & Grace is going to exist in the Trump era, and if it wants to be even half as influential as the original run was, it needs to make a better effort to represent minorities. That doesn’t mean the revival needs to say something overtly political each week, but maintaining a delicate balance between snarky pop culture jabs and belly-aching situational comedy is key. With a two-season order, the show has plenty of opportunity to correct its flaws and sharpen its strengths. And I’m more than happy watching Karen guzzle more vodka and Jack burst through the door in the mean time.