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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > Will and Grace - Season One

 

Will & Grace

Season One - 1998 (Lion's Gate-2003)

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Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 30, 2005.

Like most sitcoms, Will and Grace creates its own world, with its own rules, and then asks you to accept that the situations they present are universal examples of the human condition. It wants it both ways: to calm the homophobic masses from being mortified by New York gaydom, while perpetuating the stereotype into infinity.

However, in all fairness, using the urbane, chatty wit of an Oscar Wilde play (by way of a Lady Bunny off-off-Broadway revue), Will and Grace actually fares better than most. Homosexuality is no longer the subject of “very special” episodes on series, and gay characters (both stereotypical and non-stereotypical) have been appearing regularly on TV for almost thirty years now. Yet, the novelty hasn’t seemed to have worn off – the new challenge is in how the novelty is repackaged.

Will and Grace is, after all, a situation comedy, but it delivers more on comedy than situation. The characters depicted here are basically happy, well off and comfortable in their skins. That is never good enough for a sitcom, however: the writers insist on burdening them with mild-to-low-pressure troubles, neurosis and conflicts to make them seem more “human;” these obligations always somehow seem tacked on (example: should Grace go on a date with a hot guy or should she stay back and tend to Will, who is hurting over a breakup?).  It’s never enough to show characters actually enjoying their lives to the fullest, even though most of us would appreciate it greatly.

With four very talented actors who are literally screaming for attention and jostling for position, the episodes almost always even out and pop up as dry toast with lots of butter. Undeniably, the chemistry is there, and the lines are delivered right on time. Attorney Will Truman (Eric McCormack) serves up his anecdotes as if Rex Harrison was starring in a Noel Coward play, and his best friend Grace Adler (Debra Messing) is Lucy Ricardo channeling Rhoda Morgenstern.

They’re old buddies from college who stayed in touch and grew close. We’re told that they’re kindred spirits and perfectly suited for one another, but, as good as they are as actors, it more often than not feels as if they are reading lines at each other.

The series’ story starts out on a retread: Grace leaves her unsuitable fiancée. For some reason, this is many a TV writer’s secure starting point (check out the first episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers and Friends), as if deserting the altar is the modern gateway to an exciting and better new life. 

The focus is on the beautiful, lasting, strong, unshakable friendship between the two – ultimately it’s more about Adam and Eve than Adam and Steve.

The B-Team (Megan Mullally as Karen and Sean Hayes as Jack) should actually be the A-Team: they’re far more interesting, watchable and entertaining. The screen lights up and the pace quickens when they make their theatrical entrances, even though they are shoe-horned into their roles as second bananas. If only the show would be called Karen and Jack and the writers pulled back on the soul searching, we would really have something here.  When Karen sniffs, “I have feelings too, ya know,” or when Jack states, “Every human life has value,” then they proceed to burst out laughing about what they just said, we see that substance doesn’t always have to be a requirement of a Class A sitcom.

Will and Grace only slows down when it insists on character development – an honorable aim, but when the two main characters continue to explore the reasons behind their twenty-year friendship (usually within the last three minutes of each episode), it sours the fun and grinds the rhythm to a halt and bores the hell out of everybody.

Gay Guys and the Fag Hags Who Love Them is what we have here, and the dilemma of “will gay play in Peoria?” doesn’t seem to bother them in the least, and it shouldn’t. Where Ellen was incorrectly pegged as being “too gay” (after both the character and the star came out of the closet), Will and Grace is light years ahead in its approach. They assume, for the most part, that their lifestyle is secondary to their lives – however, it would be more interesting to see this same situation take place in a small town or a working-class neighborhood instead of the most obvious place of all: New York, the Gay Fun City. The show suffers from the worldview of its wrongheaded writers that anywhere outside of New York is inferior and stupid (Manhattan: good. Brooklyn/New Jersey: bad). Nevertheless, the show found an immense mainstream audience and suffered no backlash, and that in itself is a step in the right direction.

They’re not so much dealing with coming-out issues as they are about showcasing life out of the closet and the obsessive need to quote pop culture. The lingo is there, for sure, practically ripped out of the pages of HX magazine: Mary, Fembot, Homo Wan Kanobi, Puff Mommy, Babes In Boyland, Mother Inferior, Blanche, Sarcasmo, Gaylien, Sufferin’ Sappho and Come On, Eileen, among other zingers. The characters make exceptional use of references (everything from I Dream of Jeannie to “I’ve Never Been To Me”) and they don’t wait for you to get it. If you don’t get it, it’s your problem, and that’s a healthy quality in a smart sitcom.

When facing the possibility of going to jail for tax evasion, Jack laments, “I still have a novella to write…I’ve never met Barbara Eden…my life is just beginning!” And when Will slaps him back to calmness, he apologizes with, “I’m sorry for that Knot’s Landing moment,” you’ve either caught the ship or you’re left at the dock.

Sometimes the banter borders on the crossing of the line, which is always a good thing. For instance, in order for Rosario (Karen’s maid) to get a green card, she has to marry Jack. After the ceremony, Will comments, “I haven’t seen a kiss that uncomfortable since Richard Gere and Jodie Foster in Somersby.” Now that’s entertainment.

It’s the breakout character of Karen, known as "the sass, the class and the ass," who has become an icon of gay men everywhere. In this case, it’s on purpose, unlike the four female characters of Sex and the City, who everybody knows by now are actually gay men despite the show’s constant official denials.  Karen reflects causally but boldly about her life: “I got no responsibility, my job’s a breeze and I got a killer rack. Good morning!” ‘Nuff said.

This first season DVD moves quickly and entertains. Its extras (creator and cast interviews and long strings of themed clips, such as dancing, singing and hugs) are only so-so. We get to see what was eventually weeded out, like the Andy-Griffith-like client of Will’s who was not only very straight but – get this! – married with kids and from Texas! This fish out of water was most likely there to represent the masses who had not yet been exposed to homo culture (“Whatever I don’t get, I figure is gay,” he says), but society has moved comfortably into the inner circle since then and it no longer needs him as a tour guide.

The show will eventually get better and then get worse (the stunt casting will become among the worst ever tried on TV – with Madonna playing a regular gal and Cher literally playing God). However, with this first season, you’ll for sure have a gay old time.

 Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 30, 2005.