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)
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
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
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
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!”
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.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
January 30, 2005.