OCTOBER 2, 2017
Unless you are a TV viewer who has for some reason been living under a rock the last month, you are likely to be aware that the iconic sitcom “Will & Grace” returned to the NBC Thursday night lineup last week to enormous audience response and great ratings. “Will & Grace” has been off the air for 11 seasons now, and its return raised questions as to whether the sitcom was still relevant.
After all, when “Will & Grace” premiered in 1998 amid great controversy, marriage equality was still a faraway dream, and now it has become the law of the land. In fact, in 2012 Vice-President Joe Biden cited “Will & Grace” as doing “more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.” That’s a challenging legacy that which any TV show must match.
But does it?
Aside from an overabundance of Trump jokes, “Will & Grace” most certainly does, at least based on the premiere episode.
It starts off in typical “W&G” fashion with something topical — a game of charades where Will (Eric McCormack) is feeding clues to Grace (Debra Messing): “He’s a man who has aged into a lesbian.” Grace guesses “Steven Tyler! (wrong) Jon Voight! (also wrong) “Newt Gringrich! (correct!). And my favorite: Will, upon seeing the name, throws up his hands: “She’s…don’t get me started” Grace responds “Jada Pinkett Smith!!!!” (correct!)
And we’re off.
Before we get to the actual story, there’s some messy housekeeping with which to deal. In the original series’ final episode, Will & Grace separately married their loves (not each other) and had kids, who then met up later in life. Here it’s made clear that almost the whole thing was a part of a drug-induced dream by Karen (Megan Mullally) –both Will & Grace did divorce their spouses, and the kids…well, presumably they’ve been sent to sitcom purgatory, never to be heard from again.
The episode’s plot is, as usual, preposterous. Karen, who is besties with “Donnie and Melania” reveals that the First Couple is looking for a decorator to redo the Oval Office, which Donnie describes as “a dump.” Against her better judgment, Grace takes the job. Meanwhile, Will and Jack (Sean Hayes), who wants to renew his relationship with a gay Secret Service agent who is guarding the President, come to the White House as well. Will has come along to give a right-wing Republican congressman a piece of his mind, but when Will comes face to face with the representative, whose appearance is dreamy, Will simply melts into a puddle.
Then he sees Grace in the Oval Office. A pillow fight ensues (pictured above). Don’t ask.
As is true for many premiere episodes which are deigned to be big events, placing its characters in unusual or exotic locales, it is difficult to tell just how the series is going to function when it gets down to more mundane home-based plots. But clearly the strong chemistry among the four actors is still there, picking up just where they left off. (“Will & Grace” is one of only three shows in television history where its entire cast have won acting Emmys for their performances, the others being “All in the Family” and “The Golden Girls.”)
Given the progress of gay rights since the show’s premiere in 1998, the gay jokes have a lot less power to shock. But “Will & Grace” has nothing to prove on that front anymore.
Back to the question posed above. Is “Will & Grace” still relevant? Perhaps not in gay acceptance, as that battle has largely been won. But with top-flight direction, consistently funny writing, and a crackerjack quartet of comic actors, “Will & Grace” is absolutely relevant. Because right now given all that is happening around us, we need a good laugh now more than ever. And “Will & Grace” delivers.