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VIEWPOINT Will and Grace 2017: You Can't Go Home Again
by Max S. Gordon
2017-11-22

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The return of Will & Grace is a miracle of sorts, a pinch-me moment in the history of television. The #VoteHoney video, created to support Hillary Clinton's run for president and which led to the show's revival, reminded me again what I loved about the original show, and why with Mike Pence in the White House, as a gay man, I needed it now more than ever.

The fault in 2017 is not the talent; it's great to see Eric McCormack again bringing out the irony and passive aggressiveness in Will Truman's shady repartee. His performance goes deeper than a straight actor's impersonation of a gay man. Megan Mullally has a genius for line-readings as Karen. Sean Hayes still has the high voltage required to play Jack McFarland. And Debra Messing has a presence almost supernatural in its ability to reassure and a natural warmth—it's her greatest strength as a performer. With a narcissist in the White House who takes himself too seriously—we need an actress like Debra Messing on TV right now.

The first new episode, "11 Years Later," was criticized by some viewers as too political, too anti-Trump. The problem with the episode is not that it is anti-Trump; it is that it is slovenly written, like the rest of the episodes we've seen so far, and seemed stale on arrival. The re-boot feels soulless, while the original show had real pathos. I was amazed after watching an episode this season in which Grace has a cancer scare, and is reunited with her ex-husband, Leo—two potentially devastating plotlines—and I didn't feel a damn thing.

When it was announced that the show would return, fans were curious as to how the show's creators would deal with the series finale. They ditched it, resolved in a matter of minutes with the idea that Karen simply dreamt the whole thing.

Perhaps it would have been okay, after all, to pick the show up where the finale left off—to see Grace fight with her college-age daughter and find herself saying things that her mother would often say to her. (When Grace's daughter whines "Mom, that's not fair," she might reply, "Well, neither is my cottage-cheese ass" and then look at Will in horror.) Or maybe we finally get to see Karen in rehab, forced to get treatment because of a night in jail and a DUI conviction. Karen torments the staff while wearing a hospital gown from Hermes and offers to bribe her AA sponsor if he will lie and tell her probation officer that she's done the 12 steps.

The way the show is conceived now, Karen is still drunk and abusive, Jack is working temp jobs and still lying to himself, and Will seems to hover around offering support to Grace and Jack like a well-dressed fairy godfather, who smiles beatifically when his friends "see the light," while never leaving his apartment.

The world which Will, Grace, Karen and Jack now inhabit seems underwater—everyone talks to each other, but they don't seem to be in the same scene. It is unclear if Grace's new Puerto Rican assistant, Tony, is there to work for her or to be the new foil for Karen's racist Latino jokes. A bizarre scene between Grace and Tony borders on sexual harassment. In another, Karen assumes at first that Grace "bought" Tony for her, but then says, "Oh I see, you bought him for yourself."

The actors on the show deserve better than these antiquated "people-of-color-as-white-people's-playthings" scenes. In the episode "Grandpa Jack," Jack finds out he is a grandfather after being estranged from his son Elliot, and then attempts to remove his grandson from a gay conversion camp. When father and son unite at the show's conclusion, the audience very audibly says, "Awww." It's like an old episode of Silver Spoons—we've gone from Oscar Wilde to Oscar Mayer. Something is seriously wrong.

I guess what's most painful is that if this continues it may affect and erode our memories of a show that we once loved. Rather than sit and watch characters you love enduring situations you hate, you might want to see it cancelled. I would rather Will & Grace not have returned to TV than to see it like this, with one broken high heel, running mascara and its wig on crooked, hobbling to catch a cab in the rain.

I'm sure that there is someone who will read this and think: who cares, it's just a dumb TV show anyway. But Will & Grace mattered, because art matters and what art reveals to us about ourselves. And because I believe in Will & Grace, we can only hope that, in this case, "It Gets Better" doesn't refer to bullying but to bad writing.

I would be very happy to find out that none of what we are watching now actually happened, and that the original series finale was the real ending after all—that Karen, in a state of intoxication, invented the show's return. It would make sense. At this stage of the game, the new Will & Grace, with its lack of spirit and depth, is a show only a narcissistic addict could dream of. Now let's hope someone stages an intervention.

Max S. Gordon is a writer and performer. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos (University of Michigan Press, 1991), and Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-American Lesbian and Gay Fiction (Henry Holt, 1996). His work has also appeared at The New Civil Rights Movement, openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive online and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. His published essays include, "Bill Cosby, Himself: Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence" and "Faggot as Footnote: On 'I Am Not Your Negro', 'Can I Get A Witness', and 'Moonlight.'"

The full essay is at tinyurl.com/WillAndGraceEssay.


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