The secret sauce: why 'Will & Grace' is working as a revival

Be the first to comment

Unlike the array of single-camera comedies on NBC over the years, "Will & Grace" makes us laugh at a tumultuous time in our country.

I admit it. I did not want NBC to revive "Will & Grace." Once a fan, I was so disgusted by the lack of character development in the original sitcom, I stopped watching regularly during the Harry Connick, Jr. era and beyond, which would have been the last four seasons of the original 1998-2006 run. When were these characters—Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally)—going to grow up, I wondered.

I couldn’t even get through the series finale, when—egads!—we flash to the future and learn that Will and Grace's children move into the same dorm together, and 20 years have gone by since the pair have even communicated. Honey, that just sounded like complete bullshit to me—almost as bad as John Goodman’s Dan Conner "dying" in the finale of ABC's "Roseanne." 

Considering Goodman is returning as good ol' Dan in ABC's upcoming revival of "Roseanne," I guess that, too, was all a dream!

Naturally, when I heard NBC ordered two seasons of the "Will and Grace" revival in advance, I rolled my eyes and vowed in my mind to probably jump ship after sampling the first return episode. Particularly alarming, at least I thought, was learning that the series finale was quickly explained by Mullally’s Karen as a drunken dream. Will and Grace apparently never even had children! Then there was the absence of beloved Shelley Morrison as Karen's maid Rosario, the voice of somewhat reason in that sea of insanity. 

Rosario was like Estelle Getty as Sophia on "The Golden Girls." She always had the best zingers. So, without her I truly expected this new "Will & Grace" to be the pits. But five episodes in, and after spending a week of the New York Television Festival (where the subject of this new "Will & Grace" came up), I now realize this was my biggest blunder since thinking a show set in a bar in 1982 on NBC would just not work.

Yes, I know, "Cheers" ran for 11 seasons! And, yup, it spun-off "Frasier" too! (We'll forget about "The Tortellis.") 

Like the 10-million viewers that have welcomed back the gang of four with open arms (and solid ratings and reviews to boot), "Will & Grace" is now a must see destination for me. And it should be for you too. 

So, what exactly has changed? 

"I think "Will & Grace" is the poster child for how to do a revival," said Jonathan Gabay, SVP, Comedy Development & Programming, Fox at a panel at the New York Television Festival on the state of comedy. "Those actors came in, the set was the same, they are doing what they did before, it's funny and everyone is happy at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. While creativity is one ticket, so it rediscovering a formula that worked and doing it the right way the second time around."

Personally, I could not have said that better myself. Unlike the array of single-camera comedies on NBC over the years that seem more concerned about the critical accolades, often with situations we just could not relate to, the secret sauce in "Will & Grace" is simple: it makes us laugh at this tumultuous time in our country. While the original version set precedent for the acceptance of two gay male characters, this time that just does not even matter. 

Certainly the TV critic in me can re-point a finger over the lack of any character development and the absurdity at present of fiftysomething-ish Will and Grace becoming roommates again. But Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo, Lucy Carmichael and Lucy Carter in three separate sitcoms was also frozen in time, and she made me laugh out loud. And so do these four. In fact, Grace and Karen stuck together in Karen’s shower as the water was rising in episode two, while implausible, was reminiscent of when Lucy and Viv (Vivian Vance) have the same thing happen in season one of "The Lucy Show." Funny is funny!

Since I still miss Rosario (as I am sure you do too), let me make a personal plea to the wonderful Shelley Morrison. Call your agent and get yourself back on "Will & Grace." While we will learn that Rosario has "passed away" this week, that too can be a dream!