WILL and GRACE - A Review
...I don’t know about you, but hearing Karen softly call Jack “Poodles”, just warms my heart…
Art & Words by Fanitsa Petrou
The fabulous foursome of the legendary sitcom Will & Grace, (Eric McCormack as “Will”, Debra Messing as “Grace”, Megan Mullally as “Karen” and Sean Hayes as “Jack”) returned on TV last Thursday, and it felt like old times. The sleek fashion sense, the big hair, the spacious, bright New York apartment with the familiar knick-knacks, the elevated kitchen and the portrait of the “sad guy”, Grace’s office with the mess, the beautifully arranged flowers and the swatches, it’s all there. And it is strangely comforting to see that it is.
Yes, we’ve seen it all before. Yes, this is self-referential and possibly stuck in Time, but then again how could it not? This is not exactly done to recruit a new generation of viewers, who are favouring the single camera / no laughing track / unscripted / darker / “Baskets”-like (and let’s face it, mostly depressive) “comedies” anyway. This is for the legions of the fans who have missed this particular brand of broad, campy, looppy, loud, razzmatazz-y sitcom. The writers even point this out when they have Will say to Grace: “Stay as long as it makes sense!” warning us that this is how they see this too. “All those other times we’ve done this, we thought it would be different, but this time we KNOW it is going to be exactly the same. And that’s what makes it different”. And you know what? We are fine with that. In fact we are thrilled!
The four characters may have all aged a bit (and who among us hasn’t, I ask you?) but like it ought to happen on TV when it comes to beloved characters, they have not really evolved. Nothing much has changed: Will and Grace are still living in the same house (after they both apparently got divorced), and Jack is still a giant baby, still living across the hall from them, still looking for fame and having random hook-ups, and when it comes to men, still showing Will how it’s done (“you just pop out your contacts and get to work”). Will is still a lawyer, and doing the dry, sarcastic thing he does so well he might as well be British, and he is still (ironically) the “straight man” to Jack’s flamboyant outrageousness. Grace still works as an interior designer and still attempts to manipulate Will. (Not to mention still farts in elevators - though in her words that’s just “Fake News!”). Their relationship is still as dysfunctional as ever, as are both lying to each other, as much as they rely on each other too, and they are both still ready to betray their beliefs for success or love. The helium-voiced Karen is still rich and married to Stan, and still drunk to the point of occasionally blacking-out and having some pretty complex hallucinations that can apparently last for the duration of half a season! (More on that later). She is also still on Grace’s case when it comes to fashion choices, chanting that famous anti-Hillary mantra: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” whenever she doesn’t approve of her outfit.
The show attempts to get topical (but then again it always did!) with updated pop culture references right off the bat: Jack is on Grindr which he finds to be gross (and it REALLY must be, if he of all people thinks it is: “I feel like I could get finger-herpes just from scrolling”), on “Game Nights”, Charades has been replaced by “Heads Up!” and not five minutes into the show, there are Shonda Rhimes, Jada Pinkett Smith and Caitlyn Jenner jokes, while Will and Jack measure men’s hottness on the “Ryan scale" ("He's a Reynolds-point-Gosling!").
The business of the finale, which had Will and Grace growing apart and then being reunited after years have gone by when their respective children married each other, is on the other hand, dealt in a “Dallas” kind of manner: it was all a dream! A drug-addled dream Karen had! It turns out, there were never any children, and so also, no marriage between them. It – much like that entire Dallas season that was annulled as something the character Bobby Ewing has dreamed – never happened! “I had the weirdest dream,” Karen says coyly, and that’s actually as far as they go on that. “Got it?” Jack asks looking directly at the camera, as if to make sure we do.
This is admittedly not an ideal way to reconcile the past with the future of the series, especially since it means it asks of us not to just pretend the finale never happened, but also that a big part of season eight, (which had Grace meeting Leo on a plane to England, hooking up, getting pregnant, having the child, deciding to raise it with Will, and then having that horrible fight with him when she chose Leo over him) never happened either. But you know what? We’ll take it! If this is the only way this thing can be resurrected, (and I believe it is), I personally don’t mind it if it walks with a limp. Give it time and it will run like it used to...
Anyway, with that out the way, they all get down to business: first there’s a completely pointless scene in Grace’s office with her new assistant who is possibly Hispanic and I suspect is probably there just to fit the “diversity” quota and shut up those who will cry “too many whites”. (Unless the role is developed in a manner that gives the young man a chance to say more than “Ah… ah… I mean… I mean…” )
Grace is also being recommended by Karen (who is a Trump supporter and friend of Melania’s (as has been established on the #VoteHoney YouTube video) to re-decorate the Oval Office, while Will has a secret crash on an anti-EPA Republican senator and that’s how they all end up in Washington: Grace and Karen in the Oval Office, Will and Jack just outside in the “Rose Garden”. While there, Will flirts with the senator, and Jack hooks up with an old flame of his who is a Secret Service agent. We then move on to the desacralisation of the Oval Office so to speak, with Karen sitting Kellyanne Conway-style on the couch, reminding the American public of that moment that dominated the News some months ago, while Grace upon opening a keepsake box in Trump’s office, finds nothing more than a Russian/English dictionary and a fidget spinner… She also at a point opens ceremoniously a bag of Cheetos to check out whether or not her swatches go well with the president’ s complexion (which may have been a little bit crass, and something of an unnecessary cheap shot, not to mention a real gift delivered into the hands of all those Trump supporters who were looking for ammunition). Anyway, Will & Grace somehow even end up having an actual pillow fight in the Oval office - obviously as a metaphor of the many ways with which the White House seems to have lost its gravitas after the Trump administration has moved in. Incidentally, the White House employee who gives Will a tour a few minutes back, refers to Trump as the “New Owner”! “There’s a lot of new words they wanna us to use”, she informs Will. And later: “Rules don’t mean anything in this place any more” A point that is brought home with the pillow fight. Yet the strongest political comment comes when Will finds out that the White House is being redecorated and goes: “Redecorating for this president? What desperate fool would take that job? This is gonna be redone in a year…” implying of course that Trump will be impeached…
All four actors seem to still be at the top of their game, reprising their roles with that old famous pizzazz we have come to know and love. All in all, almost 20 years after its premiere, Will & Grace feels comfortably familiar, but also slightly different. It feels maybe a tad out of step, partly because we still expect to see the thirty-somethings we used to watch (even if we don’t even see our own thirty-something self in our own mirror anymore…) but mostly, because this is a more cynical, darker world, and anything optimistic, sleek and fun, seems somehow kind of out of place in it... But then again, that is exactly why we do need this, more than ever. Plus, I don’t know about you, but hearing Karen softly call Jack “Poodles”, just warms my heart…
Speaking of Karen: The one thing that admittedly bothered me a bit, is how she seemed somehow changed not in terms of looks but rather of “energy”. Whenever the actress Megan Mullally (who is, like the other three, a comedic genius) is being interviewed on any subject, she ALWAYS smiles slyly throughout the entire interview, as if she has a dirty secret, or as if she’s thinking about a really funny and filthy joke which she won’t share with us for the moment, but which still makes her smile suggestively. It is for the first time in all the years she’s been playing the lovable nutcase that is Karen, that her real-life / twinkle-in-the-eyes persona has been merged so to speak with her role, and we catch Karen at times having that same kind of sly smile, the same kind of “knowing”, mischievous, secretly amused look, which was never before there (They have always been two entirely different creatures, with entirely different energies and brands of wicked sense of humour). Could it be because it’s been years since Mullally has inhabited the Karen character? Or is it because now Karen has a “secret” too (that of the dream/finale)? Or is it because Mullally consciously and cheekily wants to let us know that we are all in on the joke, in a “Hey-we-are-back! Watch-us-have-a-go-at-Trump!” kind of manner?
As for the criticism about the first episode being “highly-politicised” and anti-Trump, isn’t it only natural to turn political, given that this is the continuation of that “Don’t-Vote-For-Trump!” short video? Not to mention: isn’t it only natural for a show that has done so much in terms of normalising the gay lifestyle, to take a stance, now that the rights of gay citizens (not to mention, of women, and people of colour) are for once again being questioned and attacked?
Besides, if you used to love the original Will & Grace series (a show about two gay men and two women – one of whom happens to be Jewish) and you voted for Trump, a man who is doing his best to strip gay people and women off their rights, not to mention resurrect the hate against Jews (and black people) and you are perfectly fine with that, you need to do some serious soul-searching before you take offence at a sitcom being too “political”. When you don’t mind seeing your fellow citizens being discriminated against in real life, then maybe you should not mind so much if this fact is being implied on a TV show with fictional characters in a 20 minute long episode. You can always opt to avoid watching it by the way, but those who are forced to live in a world that rejects them, cannot escape it. If you are offended by just a TV show that speaks against your favourite president, imagine how offended countless people must feel, by finding themselves in a position where they are actually –as in, in real life - being discriminated against (or even at times facing violence)!
As for all those who claim that TV shows, TV writers and TV actors (and TV reviewers for that matter) have “no place commenting on politics”, they need to be reminded that they themselves have actually voted for a reality TV star(!) and have delivered into his (literally and metaphorically) tiny hands, the greatest political power in the entire world! In fact, there should be a kind of alarm-clock / gadget / cartoon-like thingy invented, with a holographic hand that comes out of their TVs and wakes them up every morning by slapping them on the face, until they realise what they’ve done. Maybe then – and only then - they will be entitled to profess opinions about how utterly “harmful”, “infuriating” and“outrageous” things like TV shows and TV plots are. But frankly, not a minute before that!