How not to bring back 'Will & Grace'

The digital mini-reunion has sparked talk of a full-fledged reboot. But which version of the once-brilliant show will we get?

It was two minutes into the recent "Will & Grace" reunion mini-episode when I remembered exactly why I had lost interest in this Emmy Award-winning sitcom. "Stan had to have something drained from his new anus," proclaimed Megan Mullally, aka spoiled socialite Karen, moments after entering Will and Grace's apartment chanting "Trump!" and waving two American flags.

After several more minutes of crass putdowns ("Grace, did you hear what your pussy gay Muslim boyfriend just said?" screeches Karen when Will criticizes Trump), Sean Hayes bounds into the scene complaining that Brangelina's divorce is overshadowing his breakup, and spewing his own brand of political nonsense, threatening not to vote by "staying home Dec. 1st."

In the words of Seinfeld's Mulva, obviously there's been no growth here.

Because it's 2016, when even middling fare like "MacGyver" is getting a second shot, the 10-minute reunion episode—which has racked up more than 6 million views—has sparked reports of a 10-episode Will & Grace reboot. Is that good news? The answer depends entirely on which "Will & Grace" comes back: The smart, boundary-pushing show that challenged cultural stereotypes with fully realized characters, or the crass, insult-driven bore that eventually replaced it?

"Will & Grace" was not only the first TV program to feature an openly gay male character, it was the first series with a main gay character to prosper in the ratings. Unlike ABC sitcom "Ellen," which turned into a platform for discussing—and defending—the homosexual lifestyle after Ellen DeGeneres came out, "Will & Grace" never got bogged down by its own cultural importance. The show worked because the characters were more than their sexual orientation. Will was an aspiring and sensible lawyer who just happened to be gay, and Grace was his heterosexual best friend. No big whoop. In today's era of same-sex marriage and transgender role models, it can be hard to appreciate how radical and refreshing that felt in the 1990s.

But with time came stagnation, and those rich, multi-dimensional characters were soon eaten alive by lazy writing. Some weeks, it felt as though the writer's room had a contest to see who could come up with the most tasteless putdown, or the most quasi-enlightened use of the word "gay." Add to this cast four increasingly unlikeable characters, a parade of pointless guest stars, from Cher to Britney Spears, to Elton John to Barry Manilow, and "Will & Grace" had rapidly turned into must-flee TV.

So far, no network show has proved to be better the second time around. "MacGyver" on CBS and "Fuller House" on Netflix are not exactly necessary; it remains to be seen how "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life" turns out on Netflix. So I have little to no faith that a potential ninth season of "Will & Grace" will be any better than what we saw in later seasons. I truly hope NBC doesn't go through with it.

But if they do (and it looks like they will), they might want to try trading the crass jokes for some plausible storylines. Give Jack a job. Tone down Karen's foul mouth. Give us more time with Karen's sharp-tongued maid, Rosario (Shelley Morrison). And please, disregard the bizarre flash-forward from the May 2006 series finale in which Will and Grace settle down together after an 18-year estrangement. But do embrace the realization that Will and Grace are meant to spend their lives together. Resist the Katy Perry guest episode.

And one more thing: "Will & Grace" is one of only three sitcoms in history for which all four leads have won an acting Emmy. One of the others, "All in the Family," provides everything you need to know about balancing likeability with cultural commentary. Norman Lear's Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) could easily have remained a one-dimensional, angry, bigoted character. But week after week he was proven to be a loving husband and grandfather who cared about his family because the crass jokes served the character, not the other way around. Consider that next time you're deciding which gay stereotype to riff on.

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