TV’s numerous series revivals usually make at least a gesture toward rationalizing why they need to tell one more story. “Twin Peaks: The Return” had Agent Cooper emerge from the Black Lodge after 25 years. “Gilmore Girls” brought Rory home to Stars Hollow after her grandfather’s death.
“Will & Grace,” returning Thursday after eleven years, makes little such pretense. It’s back on TV because somebody at NBC wanted it back on TV.
The 2006 no-longer-a-finale ended with Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and his best friend Grace Adler (Debra Messing) married to their respective lovers. Now, they’re not. A flash-forward introduced us to their two adult children meeting. Turns out the kids were never born.
Why? The return episode suggests it was all a dream. Or part of it was. Most of it? Whatever. Do you want to watch the show or not?
If you do, you’ll find — once you get past the painful first episode — pretty much what you would if you selected any random episode from the series’s eight-season run: a tart, high-strung quip-delivery device.Continue reading the main story
Which is ... fine. The best and worst thing you can say about “Will & Grace” is that it’s the kind of half-hour confection that doesn’t cry out for obsession over narrative continuity.
The revival begins in Will’s living room. He and Grace are playing a name-the-celeb game. (“He’s a man, but aged into a lesbian.” “Steven Tyler. Jon Voight. Newt Gingrich!”). Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) is scrolling through Grindr. Socialite Karen Walker (the national treasure Megan Mullally) is hoisting a martini glass like a sauced Statue of Liberty.
The timing is still there, as is the wordplay pioneered by the creators, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. Except for the pop-culture references and the smartphones, you could believe they’ve been waiting unchanged inside your TV for 11 years.
Everyone’s older, of course, and they’re re-entering a culture the show helped change by mainstreaming gay characters in prime time — making itself less distinctive in the process. The second episode addresses both circumstances, as Jack considers a rejuvenating dose of “Scrotox” (“Botox for the boys”) and Will lectures his young date (Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen”) about his generation’s struggles and the importance of Madonna.
The premiere episode strains the hardest for relevance. Grace, an interior designer, considers a gig renovating the Trump White House. (Karen, of course, is pals with Donald and Melania.)
You can’t say the political turn comes out of nowhere, since the impetus for the revival was a ten-minute get-out-the-vote reunion video in September 2016. But it’s a glib, clunky effort that manages to be both dismissive of Mr. Trump and his voters and flippant about the opposition.
A Secret Service agent (Kyle Bornheimer) says that his job is easier now because “the nutjobs we protected the last president from are this guy’s biggest supporters.” Meanwhile, Grace is uneasy about taking the job but admits that her activism is flagging: “Now I use my pussy hat to sneak candy into the movies.”
The episode ends on a let’s-agree-to-disagree note that rings false, not just because of all the partisan jabs that precede it but because of the real-life climate. “No hard feelings” is a tougher conclusion to sell when so much politics today is less about policy than about the generation of hard feelings. (It’s also an easy out for these relatively privileged characters.)
The revival is steadier in the next two episodes, where it settles into its nimble mode of zingers, farce and slapstick. This is the sort of sitcom where, if two people walk into a fancy automated shower, you know they will get trapped in it. There’s a comfort in that.
The show also retains its core dynamic, the hermetic, supportive-suffocating friendships among the quartet. It’s always been refreshingly willing to admit that its characters are pieces of work, yet their affection is as genuine as the insults.
I don’t know if there’s actually a pent-up demand for more “Will & Grace,” beyond the nostalgia the NBC publicity machine has heroically tried to manufacture. But there’s something refreshing about a show that doesn’t try to engineer an explanation for its comeback beyond, “The cast was available and the checks cleared.”
“Will & Grace” is not exactly necessary, but it’s not harming anyone either. Except for those two poor kids from the finale, whom we shall never speak of again.Continue reading the main story