Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'Will & Grace' - Will and Grace Confront Their Politics and End Up in a Surprising Location in '11 Years Later'

NBC's Will & Grace - Episode 9.01 "11 Years Later"

Will and Grace both falter when their political beliefs are put to the test. Jack and Karen help Will and Grace hide their secret shame from each other, but the truth finally comes out.

As I said in my pre-air review of this revival of the show, I have never watched an episode of Will & Grace before "11 Years Later." I don't think that's a huge hindrance to the viewing experience though. Yes, it will probably be good to have context about the lives these characters have already lived. But right now, it's important to see what they are doing now. It's very familiar and the show does a lot of hand holding in this premiere. So, it's an easy entry point for anyone who wanted to watch the show first time and didn't have the opportunity to watch a bunch of episodes on Hulu after they joined the streaming service a week ago. Of course, this premiere also has to address the fans of the show from the original run who left things with a certain understanding of what happened to these characters. So first and foremost, the show needs to address the original series finale. It basically just wipes it all away in the opening moments. That was to be expected. The show only works if it's about these four characters who live or work together. They are incredibly close in each other's lives. There only needs to be the four of them in order to tell compelling stories. That's what this premiere sets out to do. It shows the outrageous situations these characters have the means to get into. It's a little silly and broad. It didn't totally work for me. But it does do a fair job in establishing what kind of expectations we should have as we head into this new season.

That cold open is pretty blunt and blatant. It's really forced in a lame and unimaginative way. And yet, it's simply what the show needed to do in order to move into these new stories while completely forgetting about the ending the last episode offered. It's all just told to the audience in an extremely blunt way. The friends are just hanging out in Will and Grace's apartment playing a game of "Heads Up!" Karen is staring off into space not really associating with anything going on in the world around her. The original ending is then played off as a daydream she is having. So, it's basically just a confirmation that things are still the same and not as different as they were originally planned to be. Will and Grace were married to a cop and a doctor. But they aren't anymore. Nor do they have children who would one day grow up to marry one another. That was just a part of this fantasy Karen was having. Of course, it's amusing to see how the characters play this moment. Debra Messing, Eric McCormack and Megan Mullally play it very straight and seriously. Karen is confused about what's going on with Will and Grace. She's not bothered at all that Jack isn't in her fantasy. But it's still the show just saying what did happen and what didn't. It may come across as a betrayal to those people in the audience who bought into the series finale. It then includes a moment where Sean Hayes breaks the fourth wall to ensure that the audience "gets it." Again, it's very lame and not the most creative way of handling things. But it's what needed to happen in order to move the story forward.

From there, the show can once again delve fully into politics. Will & Grace had a strong cultural impact. And now, it's abundantly clear that it's going to continue having a say on what's going on in the real world. It affects these characters. However, it mostly just feels like the show is hitting a bunch of buzzwords to make it clear to the audience that they know these characters are now in 2017. And so, that includes Jack complaining about Grindr, Grace fearing she's no longer "woke" because she doesn't wear her pussy hat for its intended purpose, Anderson Cooper is now the most popular power gay, etc. It just feels like easy jokes for the characters to make that don't really delve deeper into their new realities. That extends into the show's actual main plot that sees the characters actually being able to enter the White House. Will and Grace are forced to confront their feelings about this administration when new opportunities come their way. Can Will hook up with a congressman who stands opposed to everything he believes in? Can Grace accept a joke redecorating the Oval Office? The show presents these as easy decisions for the characters. They are shameless in that these things bother them in name only. They are offended but ultimately go through with these crazy plans as well. The humor involved just seems a little lazy. The premiere isn't telling any kind of new jokes with this presidential administration. The bits about Melania being a rich hostage, Trump having a Russian to English dictionary, Trump not spending any time in the White House and Trump resembling a Cheeto aren't original. They are just re-enforcing the commentary that has been around for awhile now. There's nothing new added to the discussion.

Plus, the premiere asks the audience to just go along with the idea that Will and Grace would get access to the White House through different methods. It's one thing for Karen to tell stories about hanging out with the Trumps, Bushes and Reagans over the years. It's another thing entirely to see that close companionship actually lead to easy access to what should be the most secure building in the country. There's a level of fantasy that allows the humor to be more biting and imaginative when it's just Karen telling these elaborate stories about the lifetime of adventures she's apparently had with the leaders of the free world and their families. It just makes it a little more weird to actually see them in this environment commenting on the history of the office as well as the ways it is currently being defiled. Of course, there's still a reason to believe that Karen could get such access. It's more believable that she can get this job opportunity for Grace. The show is really stretching things in saying that Jack could get himself and Will into the Rose Garden because he happens to know someone who works in the Secret Service. It's something the show just asks the audience to go along with. It's then a crucial part of the story because Jack and the Secret Service agent are flirting and distracting one another. That's fine. But it's all just building to an inevitable confrontation that just really seems forced.

All of this would be a bit more believable if the show was in a more heightened depiction of reality. But instead, it's playing everything completely straight. It's suppose to be biting commentary that security of the White House has been dropped considerably in 2017. But it's just not an entertaining enough story to make all of that seem worth it. Plus, it's building to a conclusion that embraces one of the most annoying pilot cliches. In a way, this premiere does act like a new pilot for the show. It's establishing things in the same way that pilots typically do. That includes the threat that everything is about to be blown up immediately after it was just set up. It's one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to pilots. The threat can never be taken seriously. The show has just laid out why the audience should care about the characters and their situations. To think that it would all amount to nothing by the end of the first episode just rings untrue every single time. So, this entire story is building to that moment where Will and Grace are fighting with one another and questioning whether they should even be living together once more. They foolishly thought that things would be better this time around. The two of them accepting that things will be exactly the same with the amount of hijinks they'll get in is what will make this time different. It's a nice moment of emotion to end the premiere on. It brings the two of them together once more as they reflect on their political beliefs in 2017. But it's such the expected and formulaic ending. So, that keeps the show from feeling all that different in this year as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "11 Years Later" was written by David Kohan & Max Mutchnick and directed by James Burrows.
  • Will and Grace have the wisdom to know that things are exactly the same and won't be different regarding their living arrangement. That's what makes them seem wiser in middle age. Meanwhile, Jack believes he's in a different place in his life now then he was a decade ago. But the joke is that he's in the exact same place doing the exact same thing.
  • Broad comedy is frequently what Sean Hayes does best but it has always been very hit or miss for me. This show has always been his biggest success - as an actor at least, he's had more success as a producer. But him going into detail about his many failed businesses over the years and whether or not he should have included his name in the title was a lot of fun.
  • Hamilton star Anthony Ramos plays a co-worker at Grace's business. It seems like a small office where Karen barely does any work at all while always getting into a ton of trouble. Tony isn't offended by her but knows that he can come to Grace if Karen ever does something inappropriate. Of course, he struggles to get those words out as well when Grace questions him about it.
  • Karen being wickedly over-the-top with alcohol, drugs and touching people in inappropriate places could be a quality that doesn't age well. And yet, Megan Mullally pulls it off remarkably well. Karen is pretty funny to watch even though I didn't quite enjoy the situations she was put in. It was particularly amusing when she was trying to figure out how she can grab Grace's breasts.
  • Even Grace seems to know the inevitable conclusion of this main story as well. She gives off the impression that she is going to move out of Will's apartment but doesn't have the intention of actually doing so. Her suitcases are in the living room. But they aren't packed at all. It's a moment where the show thinks it's being clever. It's still mildly amusing just not as great as the show thinks it is.