It is with a heavy heart that I must confess something. It’s been simmering for a while now, poking around at the back of my brain, trying to be heard. It’s a controversial truth but one that I’ve got to say aloud: Folks, Will & Grace isn’t really that good. The revival is just capitalizing on something that was pretty canned and crowd-pleasing in the worst ways, and we shouldn’t really be celebrating the fact that Will & Grace is back.
Before you get too worked up, it should be said that it might look like I’m sending mixed messages on this topic, but I’m really not trying to do so. Recently, I published a piece on SheKnows on things we love about the Will & Grace revival. So, you might be scratching your head and saying, “What gives?” when, in fact, I think it’s possible for me to find the small moments of joy in this revival while still openly disliking it. It’s happening, friends. Right now. We’re talking about it.
While the revival has its small, good moments — the amusing wokeness of aging liberals and firmly intact gender and sexual orientation dynamics proliferate here to pleasing ends — it’s still grating as hell on the nerves. It’s not just the fact that Will & Grace is still being performed and filmed in front of a studio audience, but the fact that it feels like too little, too late.
A major factor in my dislike for this revival is actually the fact that there’s a strong “We filmed this in front of a studio audience” vibe to it. The laughter is too loud and forced. The pause for a punch line to wash over said studio audience is palpable and unbearable. The performances now feel even more noticeably fake. All this is to say that it’s arguably a detriment to the revival itself that this convention is still in place; sadly, we all know it wouldn’t be a Will & Grace revival without it.
Even worse than this are the jokes. They’re so predictable and schlocky and fatiguing that after the third round, you just feel knocked out. More noticeably, these jokes seem to feel a bit too nudge-nudge-wink-wink at the audience (“Do you get it? Do ya?”). The show, by way of its core cast, wants applause from us and approval that they’re still as irreverent and lovable in their amusing oddness as they were over a decade ago. Give me a damn break, Will & Grace. Fine, here’s a cookie for your wisecracks, but please, calm down.
Also, is it just me or is the blatant wokeness of the show somehow less appealing in presentation than in theory? Yes, I’m glad that the politics of Will & Grace has progressed with the times (something it has done since Day 1), but it feels like, in every episode, there is a constant and repeated jabbing of the metaphorical finger on the “We understand modern politics” button. If there’s ever a chance to make a joke about President Trump or pussy hats or modern dating practices in the LGBTQ community or redneck middle Americans who just don’t “get it,” Will & Grace has certainly gone there.
And while I absolutely commend the revival for having the inclination to tackle all of these topics, sometimes it noticeably gets in the way of the storylines being told to us. It’s a thumbs-up from me that Will & Grace wants to take a poke or two at our current president with a visual gag involving Cheetos or propping a “Make America Gay Again” hat on the corner of a wingback chair in the Oval Office, but by the fourth episode, when the ragging on conservative politics and the seeming narrow-mindedness of Republicans in many forms gets shit on, I think it’s high time the show re-examines what it’s doing here. Why do you exist, Will & Grace 2.0?
Listen, I don’t want to completely rip on Will & Grace. At a time when television is ravenous to reboot and revive any property that might make money, the fact that Will & Grace is back is nice. It provides a nice update on the lives of characters who were integral to the changing face of television in the late ’90s and early ’00s. The performances from actors Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes are still fun and fresh. The show, as I said, isn’t afraid to be unabashedly contemporary and critical.
However, something still feels off. Simply returning to the formulaic trappings that helped catapult this show to success and its status as a cultural touchstone isn’t enough to win over this sincerely skeptical fan. And while I can appreciate the good things about it, there’s still a long way to go before this revival can feel as fresh and new as it earnestly believes it is.