Will & Grace & the Unexpected Delights & Hidden Costs of TV's Revival Craze

TV Features Will & Grace
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<i>Will & Grace</i> & the Unexpected Delights & Hidden Costs of TV's Revival Craze

Ross Gellar has been dating Grace Adler (Debra Messing) all season long. Did you know this?

Sure, David Schwimmer is playing a curmudgeonly character named Noah Broader on Will & Grace. But from 1998-2004, Friends and Will & Grace both occupied the powerhouse must-see TV block on NBC. The shows and the characters who inhabited them are iconic. It’s hard to see anyone but Ross and Grace when watching Schwimmer and Messing on screen. Grace’s love life this season has made me think about the comedy and its place in the TV landscape.

Now in the second season of its revival, Will & Grace is still going strong, creatively speaking. The jokes, always au courant, come fast. (Here’s how a recent game of Celebrity went: “I have no idea why I’m supposed to care about her.” “Bella Hadid.” “Even less.” “Gigi Hadid!”) And amid all the farce, there’s an undercurrent of poignancy. A recent episode found Grace’s father (guest star Robert Klein) not wanting to receive Will’s blood for a necessary transfusion because Will (Eric McCormack) is gay. Outraged, Grace wants Will to confront her father, but Will confesses that sometimes he’s just plain tired of fighting. The comedy is an acute reminder that although much has changed since it first premiered in 1998, too much has not.

While the series can, by definition, no longer be a trailblazer (thanks in part to Will & Grace, gay characters now populate many series), the hardest part in all of this is that the once-iconic series is now just another TV show. I mean, have you been watching? Did you know Ross had been kissing Grace and not Rachel? The comedy may not necessarily be lost in the sea of streaming platforms and TV networks, but it doesn’t hold the place in the zeitgeist it once did. And that makes me a little sad in the sense that every time I watch the show I’m reminded of what’s lost. This is unseen cost of the revival craze.

From the start of the series’ latest iteration, I was concerned that for the series to work the characters could never and would never evolve. While Will and Grace have had more grounded story lines, Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally) have been up to their usual shenanigans. Jack has spent the season preparing for his wedding to Esteban (Brian Jordan Alvarez) and starring in the one man show Gaybraham Twinken (yes, it’s as bad as It sounds). Karen (Megan Mullally) has dated both Malcolm (Alec Baldwin) and Nikki (guest star Samira Wiley), complete with Karen becoming “butch” as only Karen could.

Yet the show, which began the revival by separating Will and Grace from their romantic partners (and jettisoning their children), once again toyed with putting Will and Grace into new relationships before immediately getting them out of them: For the show to work, Will and Grace have to be roommates. So Noah, as had been long hinted, turned out to be a selfish ass who wouldn’t make any room (emotionally or otherwise) for Grace in his life, and Will’s boyfriend, McCoy (dashing guest star Matt Bomer), gets a job offer to move to London.

So, I must admit that this article was going to be about how Will & Grace is stuck in the past. About how, 21 years after the series debuted, the characters are still acting like they’re in their twenties and thirties instead of their forties and fifties. About how the series is a weekly portrait of characters who won’t grow up. (I’m sure Jack would have a field day with a one-man show about Peter Pan.) About how stunted growth works for cartoons, where Bart Simpson can perpetually be in elementary school, but becomes a little harder to take when it involves actual people.

But to my great surprise and delight, Will & Grace’s charming and hilarious season finale moved everyone’s lives forward. Amid all the over-the-top plot points (a cancelled flight! an airport wedding!), Jack actually did get married. (Not only that—a few weeks ago, he resisted the temptation to cheat on his fiancé when he ran into his old boyfriend.) Karen, in a fitting homage to Ellen, realized she’s not gay but, rather, a little lost. Will proposed to McCoy, and Grace realized she deserves to be more than just 60% happy and impulsively takes off on a trip to Europe with a man she just met (Reid Scott). (Bye bye, Ross!). While that may not be major growth for Grace, it’s a step in the right direction from trying to make a bad relationship work.

Will any of these big life decisions stick when the series returns for its third (slash 11th) season in September? I’m guessing not, except perhaps for Jack’s, since the entire premise is built on Will and Grace’s co-dependent friendship.

So can I just enjoy the show for what it is? Delight in its hilarious pop-culture references? Marvel that the series continues to attract A+ guest stars? And be grateful that one of the strongest comedy ensembles is still going strong?

I’m sure as hell going to try.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .