It followed a fairly standard sitcom formula — set up, problem, resolution. But all in all, last week’s reboot of “Will & Grace” did deliver. Typical of Washington, D.C., social media demanded that we all take a side. Gays traded their barbs via Facebook and asked if a reboot of a show gone for almost 11 years was necessary. Will it be funny? Will it hold up?
Worthy questions, especially of a show as iconic as this. So my friends and I ordered Chinese take-out (seemed to pair well) and huddled up to watch the much-heralded reboot last Thursday. Someone suggested that we watch the original pilot before. If anything, it provided a small barometer of just how far we’ve come.
Take for instance product placement. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will ruin a show or movie faster than clumsy product placement. I practically quit ABC’s “Modern Family” when an entire episode took place in a Target. I rolled my eyes when a recent “Star Trek” managed to work in Nokia and Budweiser. So I noticed that when Will opened his refrigerator minutes into the 1998 pilot, there front and center were a giant tub of Country Crock and some Mott’s apple juice, the former I’m not even sure is stored in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
This time around, Will’s apartment got some updating here and there, and minutes into this episode we see a not-so-subtle Human Rights Campaign logo on the kitchen window and two front-and-center Starbucks cups that got so much screen time they deserved billing. Better products, better placement, but a harbinger of changing attitudes and acceptance? Maybe. But it’s certainly better than margarine and apple juice.
Beyond that, the show itself had 11 years of cultural messages to make up for. And in doing so, we were treated to a lot of gay and political references that were seemingly shoehorned into 20 minutes of airtime. Everything from Queerty, to Grindr, to ‘fake news’ got a nod. Those were all in the set up. The problem part of the sitcom formula found us in Trump’s Oval Office, where Grace has been hired to redecorate. A pillow fight ensues between she and Will. This interrupts a romantic rendezvous with Jack and a Secret Service agent. The agent responds to the fight, but not before stealing a quick kiss on the lips from Jack. For me, this was the most striking moment of the episode. Not because I’m a prude, mind you. I’ve seen far more than some onscreen man-on-man make out sessions, but this sort of thing, this mainstream queerness, still seems too few and far between for primetime television.
When people commented on the return of “Will & Grace”, many remarked on how important it was for them to see mainstream out-and-proud gay characters on the small screen. What we were treated to before wasn’t much. Remember the pathetic gay character Matt Fielding from “Melrose Place?” Any time he went in for a gay kiss the camera would slowly pan away to a burning candle on the coffee table.
You can’t discount the importance of mainstream queerness, on the small or large screens. And remember, we haven’t really had a gay film that achieved mainstream success since 1996’s “The Birdcage.” The resolution portion of “Will & Grace” had the camera zooming in on HRC’s “Make America Gay Again” cap sitting on the back of Trump’s Oval Office chair.
Will Jack’s countless ‘journeys inward’ hold up? Will Karen’s drunken rich girl schtick get old after a while? We will see. Those two did provide the bulk of the laughs in the show. But the importance of the program lies in its primetime, mainstream gayness.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer who contributes regularly to the Blade.