Will & Grace: Is the Revival of this Sitcom Worth Your Time?
I was (and still am) an ardent fan of the original run of the sitcom Will & Grace. Though it sometimes tended toward the absurd and lunatic, it was often on-the-money in its depiction of the struggles of gay men and their close female friends (unceremoniously referred to as “hags”). The show was groundbreaking in many ways, but predominantly as a sitcom with a gay male lead it cut a new swath through American living rooms, opening some minds and creating important dialogues with others.
When NBC announced last year that it would be reviving Will & Grace with its original cast, taking these thirty-something characters into their forties, I was skeptical. I deemed it unnecessary, in fact, preferring to leave well enough alone. The show had resolved itself and the characters’ storylines with a very “final” final episode. There was no need to pursue Will & Grace’s stories any further (or Jack & Karen’s for that matter). I was happy with my memories and didn’t need to know the continued story.
How wrong I was. (spoilers ahead)
The revival of Will & Grace is, in many ways, superior to the original, delving into far more meaty (and poignant) places than the original ever managed to probe. Though it did need to abandon its old-ending to give us this new-track, we accept it and move on. Where the show is most effective is in exploring how the world has changed for the gay man in the last decade. Will (Eric McCormick) finds himself coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer finding inspiration or satisfaction being a lawyer and, when Grace (Debra Messing) suggests he come work with her in her design firm as her partner, he jumps at the chance. He wants to find some career reward while he’s still young enough to enjoy it. Jack (Sean Hayes), once the “twink” who hopped from one bed to another and was focused on his cabaret act and squats at the gym, finds out he a grandfather with (presumably) a gay grandson. Both these men find themselves having to adjust to a new generation of gay men. Having both grown up in a world where gay men struggled to accept their identities and were mocked and marginalized, they are taken-aback at how the Millennials are confident, at-ease with their sexuality, and how they seem to have little regard for the battles that were fought before them. Will and Jack are faced with a world where they must wrestle with the new world they hoped for and fought for, and that slight resentment for how much easier the next generation has it, enjoying the doors pried open by their predecessors. There isn’t a forty-something-plus gay man who hasn’t, at least for a moment, acknowledged this disparaging generation gap in the gay community. Will & Grace is dealing with it head on, acknowledging both the good and bad of where the story of Gay America has landed.
For Grace, the world has changed as well. Her mother has passed away, she’s divorced from her husband Leo (Harry Connick, Jr.), and she must reconcile the fact that she might actually-have been a player in the failure of her marriage. Her confidence is better than it was, but it’s still a work in progress. What I like about Grace ten years later is that she’s stopped apologizing for herself and is speaking with a voice that asserts her individuality outside of Will’s approval. When she offers him to become her business partner, it’s not out fear or desperation, but from a place where she understands her talent, his talent, and how the two of them coming together is something bigger than them both. Sure, her old neurosis flair-up now and again, particularly in moments where she must cede certain aspects of her business to her new partner, but she has found her voice and her empowerment to speak out. It’s where we hoped we’d find Grace with more life experiences under her belt.
Finally, there is Karen (Megan Mullally), Grace’s assistant who is a gin-guzzling, pill-popping, wealthy, sarcastic-with-a-heart-of-gold, free spirit who everyone will be glad to know is still as funny and crazy as ever. As much as we enjoy her antics, her best moments in this first-season are in the scenes surrounding the death of her maid and best-friend Rosario (Shelly Morrison). It tears at your heart to watch Karen struggle through this loss, especially when you recall how hilarious, inappropriate, and brutally honest their bond was. In her moments of mourning, you cannot help but wonder if Karen is feeling her own mortality. Perhaps she will be profoundly changed by this loss.
It’s good to see some old favorites back as well, including Leslie Jordan as the closeted gay man Beverly Leslie who has dumped his old “business associate” Benjy for a younger model (also named Benjy). Charles C. Stevenson reprises his role as the beleaguered bartender Smitty, dryly telling the stories of his tragic life to Karen’s amusement. Jack’s estranged son Elliott also shows up, Michael Angarano reprising his role, though far more conservative than where we last saw him. And, of course there is Harry Connick, Jr.’s Leo, charming and as confused as ever, never sure how to effectively be there for Grace. It’s nice to spend time with all-of-these characters again.
Will & Grace has proven to be the tonic we needed, the catharsis for an America where our path has gone in directions we hadn’t planned on or hoped for. It reminds me us to laugh. He reminds us to find our strength and hold each other up. It cautions us to make the most of our time and industry, to fashion a life that we can be proud of, to love with total abandon those we hold dear. Boy, was I wrong. It’s great to this quartet of loveable characters back.