A part of me wants to talk only about this show as just another one of those fine sitcoms that aired on NBC in the 1990s. I really don’t feel like preaching. But there is no avoiding the fact that Will & Grace must be seen as a very important weapon in the struggle for the gay community to be accepted as fellow human beings. But the show would never have survived on that merit alone.
Sitcom veteran James Burrows directed most episodes and his experience guided Will & Grace to success. It was set in Manhattan, usually in the apartment shared by gay attorney Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and straight interior designer Grace Adler (Debra Messing). They had been best friends since college. Jack (Sean Hayes), a flamboyantly gay buddy of Will’s, kept hanging out at the apartment, and so did Grace’s assistant Karen (Megan Mullally) who was actually very wealthy but worked at the office as kind of a hobby. Eventually, her housekeeper Rosario (Shelley Morrison) made an appearance and became such a hit with viewers that she remained in the cast throughout the run. It didn’t take long for the writers to start having fun with these people. Soon, there were running jokes about Will being obsessed with cleaning, Grace eating too much… and Karen managed to turn into this hyper-cynical addict who would drink, eat or snort anything that might give her a pleasant high. That sounds like a terribly tragic figure, and I guess she was, but this was television, not real life. Mullally was so good she made Karen both hilarious and endearing. Her relationship with Rosario was, shall we say, testy (Karen made fun of her maid’s El Salvadoran origin and Rosario referred to her boss as a “racist bitch”), but they knew they couldn’t make it without each other. Jack kept having projects over the years; as an actor he had a performance show called “Just Jack”, then dabbled as an acting teacher until he became a talk-show host at a fledgling network for gays. He didn’t have much talent, but he was too restless to give up. And Will & Grace? Well, they kept dating people, but not much came out of it. They seemed destined to live together forever… until the series finale.
Pissing off the religious right
The show had rough banter that may have been hard to take for those who only watched it now and then, but the fans understood the tone between these pals. There were also many jokes about current events… and about the gay community. There was certainly no preaching. But just showing how gay guys like Will and Jack could have fun, successful lives with a lot of love must have been an inspiration to those who were about to come out of the closet, and also a very positive influence on people who didn’t have any gay friends. The religious right folks were pissed, so Will & Grace did something right.
Still, the most important thing is that it was very funny and remained so for eight years. All kinds of artists and movie stars loved making guest star appearances, sometimes mocking their big-screen personas. The show ended on a bittersweet note many years into the future, with Jack and Karen singing “You’re My Best Friend” by the piano. Lovely.
Will & Grace 1998-2006:U.S. Made for TV. 193 episodes. Color. Created by David Kohan, Max Mutchnick. Cast: Eric McCormack (Will Truman), Debra Messing (Grace Adler), Megan Mullally (Karen Walker), Sean Hayes (Jack McFarland), Shelley Morrison (99-06).
Emmys: Outstanding Comedy Series 99-00; Actor (McCormack) 00-01; Actress (Messing) 02-03; Supporting Actor (Hayes) 99-00; Supporting Actress (Mullally) 99-00, 05-06; Guest Actor (Gene Wilder) 02-03, (Bobby Cannavale) 04-05.
Quote: “No one in the world would believe you’re straight. You’re as gay as a clutch purse on Tony night. You fell outta the gay tree, hitting every gay branch on the way down. And ya landed on a gay guy… and ya did him. No, no, honey, your gayness can be seen from space.” (Mullally to Hayes)
Last word: “The pilot had been picked up for ‘Will & Grace’, and now it was all about casting. And I was sitting in the Bel Air home of a very, famous gay director. And when I told him about the script he said: ‘Just make sure you don’t make it too butt-f***y.’ And I said: ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘You never want the American public to have to think about butt-f***ing.’ And it could not have been better advice. Because it made us understand what our job was. And our job was to get as many people as possible to be entertained and to watch the show every week.” (Mutchnick, AfterElton)