This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
WILL AND GRACE has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, which is bizarre, as I had not seen an episode in full until last week when it was released on Hulu. Stay with me here—my godmother’s sister-in-law is Shelley Morrison, the actress who portrays Rosario on the original series. I don’t remember any of her stories from that time, but she did take us to a Harry Connick Jr. holiday concert on the WILL AND GRACE set (hell yeah).
The only sitcoms I’ve watched regularly are SEINFELD and every single Disney Channel show from 2002-2008. What I like about WILL AND GRACE is what I like about most ‘90s sitcoms I’ve dabbled in: the fashion, the coziness of a familiar set, and the regularity of the yearly Christmas episode. But the real beauty is that there’s no bullshit “will they or won’t they” storyline. It’s just friends being friends, and none of the gay characters DIE because they’re just HAVING A NICE TIME. So it’s nice to see a show in 2017 that’s not trying to bury any gays, but it’s bizarre to see these beloved characters who so wholly inhabit the ‘90s – ‘00s aesthetic in what is basically The Bad Place.
It took me a second to figure out when this photo was from . . . I guess staying in your lane keeps you young, huh
The beauty of a sitcom is that it exists in a liminal space, a universe in which bad things don’t really happen. When they do happen, they’re dealt with mildly and resolved with a joke and canned laughter. To quote Tobias Funke, “I don’t want to blame it all on 9/11 . . . ,” but there’s no doubt that 9/11 totally threw television for a loop. WILL AND GRACE, among many other sitcoms, didn’t even address it in their original run—the showrunner said “broaching the terrorist attacks in a sitcom would only trivialize them.” WILL AND GRACE is in a precarious spot between being a lighthearted sitcom and a politically loaded comedy—unfortunately, being gay still means that your existence is automatically politicized, and in the ‘90s, Will and Jack were easily two of the first out gay men many viewers ever encountered.
In its updated iteration WILL AND GRACE has chosen to take a more political stance, an unsurprising choice as their grand return to television was made exclusively to beg viewers not to vote for Tr*mp. In its first episode back, Grace is hired to redecorate the Oval Office and Will is pursuing a Republican senator who he vehemently disagrees with and wants to raw. They poke fun at Tr*mp’s Cheeto-adjacent coloring, his industrialization of the White House, his “relationship” with Melania, etc. But, like most Tr*mp related comedy, it feels fucked up to laugh about it. We get it, he’s a Cheeto, but he’s also trying to take away healthcare from millions of Americans. LOL he bought Melania! Probably with all the money he’s not sending to Puerto Rico! I don’t want to be Debby Downer, but Kim, there’s people that are dying.
How to appeal to millennial viewers: marble bowl filled with Brussels sprouts
But I guess that poses the question: what the fuck are they supposed to do about it. Television is made to entertain, and in 2017 (I’m so excited to type this sentence), you can’t just pull a 9/11 and pretend all this isn’t happening. At least they’re saying /something/. And WILL AND GRACE has a pretty great platform to say something. I’m sure there are Republicans who like WILL AND GRACE—it was enormously popular in its first run. I just saw a Fox News article titled “Will & Grace Anti-Trump Premiere Alienates Some Viewers.” I would love Republicans to watch a show about gay people! Maybe then they’d realize we’re, uh, humans! But if you voted for Trump or disagree with the legalization of gay marriage, this isn’t your place to feel welcome. It’s not the responsibility of a show about a gay man and a woman (two groups y’all want to alienate in every possible way!) to consider your delicate sensibilities when you choose to tune into their program.
Despite the relevant subject matter, WILL AND GRACE is still a good old fashioned sitcom. Because of the show’s roots in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the characters’ use of modern technology feels anachronistic. It’s a little clunky, because this well-oiled machine of slapstick gags and clever wordplay now has iPhones and emojis added into the mix. It’s funny, they know how to make it work, but there’s still the initial discomfort. Like Lorelai Gilmore talking about Stephen Colbert and Lena Dunham, it’s easy to forget that these characters technically live in the same universe as the rest of us.
Thankfully, everyone’s charm is still 100% intact. As always, Megan Mullally’s Karen stands out above all. The distinct charm of her shrill voice and constant perkiness is tireless, and is all the more confusing when laughing at jokes about her old friendship with Tr*mp. Sean Hayes is still genuinely down to do anything, Eric McCormick is still frustratingly hot, and Debra Messing is still a fucking icon of the screen. God I love Debra Messing. She’s so relatable and yet her wit, comedic timing, and grace (no pun intended) are so . . . effortlessly entertaining and unattainable. None of them have aged a day. It’s a bona fide joy to see them all reunited, as no one seems happier about it than they do.
I’m a little hesitant to go all in and recommend WILL AND GRACE. NBC genuinely believes there’s something here, having already renewed the revival for a second season. The first few episodes have been fun and a little exciting after an 11 year hiatus, but that charm has to last for 24 more episodes. If anything, this will all be worth it to see Megan Mullally talking about her late night phone calls with Melania and shoving her tits in everyone’s faces.
WILL AND GRACE airs on NBC on Thursdays