Will & Grace Episode 1 ****
Starring: Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally
Thursday saw the return of legendary sitcom Will & Grace, the show that changed the TV landscape for LGBT People, both in the US and here in the UK. For a show aired at primetime, Will & Grace was always a bold choice, not only for its decision to focus on Gay Culture, but also for just how gay it was prepared to go. The writers admit themselves that they got away with a lot simply because of how niche their jokes were; for 1998, this was bold and risqué television. The show ran for eight seasons and while audiences around the world fell in love with Grace, Will, Karen and Jack, they also began to understand Queer Culture a little bit better too. The fact that its eight year run coincided with the monumental shift in political attitudes toward LGBT People can hardly be coincidental.
For anyone who lives under a rock, the show follows gay lawyer Will (McCormack) and his best friend Grace (Messing), who live together in an apartment in New York. Across the hall lived Jack (Hayes) their camp-as-Christmas friend, who is unable to keep a job, a man, or his voice down. Grace runs an interior design firm, where bisexual multi-millionaire Karen (Mullally) “works” as her secretary, but instead spends every day drinking martinis, shopping and judging every aspect of Grace’s life. The four are best friends, but at the end of Season 8, their storylines were tied up through flash-forwards that showed twenty years of bitter arguments, separation and children. Will was with Vince (Bobby Cannavale) and Grace was with Leo (Harry Connick Jnr.). So how was the new series going to kick off, with all of this already committed to film and aired eleven years ago?
The answer is exactly what you’d expect. A joke. Karen refers to the end of Season 8 but plays it off as an elaborate joke – it was a DREAM obviously! - with them all acknowledging that the show wouldn’t be Will & Grace if the titular pair were coupled up and separated. So within the space of two minutes (you can see the clip below), the quartet are back to normality; Will is single, Grace is divorced, Jack is still utterly useless and Karen is exactly the same demi-godlike perfect fag-hag in the entire world. Except they’re all a little older, Grace has Macs in her office and they all have a LOT to say about Trump.
Though previous episodes of the long-running sitcom have taken us to various exotic locations over the years, they have never been ambitious enough to go to famous or iconic ones before. In episode one, we see the entire gang heading to the White House, for varied and multifarious reasons. In the ten minute online episode they created last year, the gang had a lot to say in the run up to the election, so this time they were addressing it head-on. Karen is OBVIOUSLY a Trump supporter (she and Melania appear to now be best friends), while the others are diametrically opposed to him. They express their ongoing disgust in his being in office, refer flippantly to “alternative facts” and acknowledge that the regime they are living under is bafflingly bewildering. As they all caper around the White House, they are making a joke out of the President’s office without tackling him head on and underlining in thick red marker “TRUMP HIMSELF IS AN ABSOLUTE JOKE”.
The opening episode sees all of the characters returning to form, with all the old gags and dynamics still in place. The laugh-count is high, the scenes short and snappy, but for its 22 minute run-time, they tried to pack a hell of a lot in. I can’t help but wonder whether it might have been better to allow the characters to speak for themselves in their opening episode rather than careening off to Washington straight away, but I guess they wanted to start with a bang. It’s a strong opener certainly without a hint of Leo anywhere to be seen (Hurray!), but I hope we get a whole host of re-appearances of the old supporting players. Beverly Lesley plunged to his death in the last episode, but as that has been acknowledged as a joke, he can surely come back, right? I’m hoping for Rosario, Rob & Ellen, Joe & Larry and obviously cameos from Blythe Danner, Lesley Ann Warren, MINNIE DRIVER, Molly Shannon, please, the return of Michael Douglas and a nod to the dear departed Debbie Reynolds. With a second (tenth) series already commissioned, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us. So bring it on and welcome back!
WILL & GRACE AIRS ON THURSDAYS IN THE US. IT IS YET TO FIND A DISTRIBUTOR IN THE UK.