Thursday, October 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'Will & Grace' - Will and Jack are Uncertain If They Should Date Younger Guys in 'Who's Your Daddy'

NBC's Will & Grace - Episode 9.02 "Who's Your Daddy"

Will and Jack try to date younger guys but find it challenging. Grace and Karen experience a crisis that reveals Grace's true feelings about Karen.

"Who's Your Daddy" is a significant better episode of Will & Grace than last week's premiere was. That's understandable as well because that first episode needed to include a couple of moments that addressed how things have changed over the years but are still fundamentally the same for the actual show. This episode just gets to live in these dynamics. It allows it to be a more character-focused episode. Plus, it doesn't feel like the situations that the main characters get into are out of the realm of possibility. Sure, it's absolutely ridiculous to see Jack in that compression outfit with super strong metals and to see Grace and Karen locked in that shower that is filling up with water. It's super-broad and physical comedy. They are situations that these actors obviously love getting into because they enjoy the multi-cam format of the show and how it allows them to be comedic with their entire bodies. And yet, the humor works significantly better here. Broad, physical comedy can always be hit or miss. What works for some may not work for others. In this case, the blend just seems right while still telling a story with a strong enough hook and emotional significance to it. The broadness of the subplots doesn't take away from the power of Will's story and the realization that his experience of the world as a gay man is unique to himself and not the world at large anymore. It's a fascinating main plot that feels like the show has taken note of its age and how it needs to tell different stories with its main characters.

The only thing that seemed different about these new episodes last week was that the cast was older. Yes, the sets were updated a little bit. But it was mostly just how the actors are eleven years older while the characters are still getting into the same, crazy situations they did over a decade ago. But it's also important for the show to note the cultural significance it has had and how the world of 2017 has changed from the world of 2006. Will & Grace has long been heralded as a show that helped visualize gay rights. It was one of the first primetime shows to have series regular characters who were gay and followed their various relationships. People can argue whether or not the message it told in the actual story was progressive or stereotypical. It depicted a world where Will and Jack represented the gay community. It was two different versions but it was presented as a way to identify with and connect with people whose stories have never been told before. And now, there are so many different types of gay identity and stories. The outlook that Will and Jack have on life is no longer the sole depiction of gay men in the media. Now, things are much more nuanced. That's progress no matter where it came from. And now, the show is commenting on that. Will and Jack have had unique experiences where they can relate to the gay community at large. They understand and appreciate the history of it all. But it's fascinating for them to see how the impact of their generation has changed the one after them.

Of course, it's all wrapped up in a plot where Will and Jack are trying to figure out if it's okay for them to be dating younger guys. Jack is personally offended when a guy at a club refers to him as a daddy. Jack certainly doesn't see himself that way. He's older now but he believes he can still identify as a twink. So, he's putting in all of this effort to ensure that's how the world still sees him. Will, Grace and Karen are fine with seeing him as this wickedly over-the-top and broad friend. They love him no matter what and understand how he'll react when a situation takes a turn like this. Of course, Karen has a bunch of suggestions for how he can appear younger. It's a plan that doesn't work at all. He likes the idea of appearing slimmer and without the fat that has popped up in unattractive places. He places so much appeal on outward beauty. He needs to be seen as young and hot. This story largely just highlights how he is uncomfortable and undesirable no matter what he does. He tries being something he is not. It backfires immediately. He can't move well in this get-up. When he tries removing the magnets, they stick him to some really uncomfortable places. Of course, nothing is more amusing than when he puts them in his pockets and Will's pruners are immediately attracted to them. That's funny. The later punchline of him wearing so much makeup and scaring his potential hookup isn't that great though. It's a little too expected and stereotypical. This is a story that works best when he's playing with the other main characters.

Meanwhile, Will wants to take the more poignant approach to dating younger men and how that actually works. He's feeling very confident right now because he is still seen as desirable to people significantly younger than him. Of course, it's startling for him to realize just how young this guy, Blake (played by Tony winner Ben Platt), is in comparison to his own life. Will was already dealing with bad breakups when Blake was born. That's how wide the age gap really is. They are still very similar too. They are both living with their best friend who happens to be a straight woman. Blake doesn't believe it will last for too long while Will knows better. But that's about all that they have in common. Will wants to form a connection while Blake is eager to hookup. Will loves Madonna while Blake doesn't see her as relevant anymore. But everything comes to a head when Blake shows such little respect for everything that has happened in the gay rights movement over the years. He's completely ignorant on the issues and why he is able to enjoy the happy life he has always been blessed to have. He didn't have a bad coming out experience. He's always been comfortable living the way he is. He doesn't know the difference between Stonewall and Stonehenge. Will takes this as a time to educate Blake on the history that has led to this moment in time. It's something that he appreciates and respects every day because he knows it could still all be easily taken away from them. That's a powerful moment that truly lands because it's political without needing to be so over-the-top with the messaging.

And in the end, "Who's Your Daddy" is all about the four characters coming together and realizing just how much they appreciate one another. Will and Jack love the shorthand they have with one another. They are content with wanting to date people their own age who have the same kind of maturity and experiences they've had. Of course, it's a little weird how that moment suggests the two of them may ultimately belong together. That doesn't totally work. But their dance party to Madonna is still a fun and simple moment that shows that their friendship is still strong and healthy. This is what Grace and Karen's story is about as well. Karen wants a raise from Grace. She's motivated because her staff has just asked her for a raise. Grace doesn't see the point because Karen doesn't actually do anything in their business. They just work together on paper while Grace does all of the actual work. It takes the two of them getting locked in the shower together and risk drowning to realize that they actually need each other in their lives. They do respect one another. It's a moment that Grace tries to force into happening multiple times by giving up and freaking out about drowning. But in the end, it's a very subtle moment where Karen shows how skilled and caring she is while not trying to be as humorous as expected. Plus, the punchline that Karen's safe word is "Grace Adler" is very amusing. It shows that they care while still enjoy making fun of each other as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Who's Your Daddy" was written by Tracy Poust & Jon Kinnally and directed by James Burrows.
  • Rosario, Karen's maid, is referenced multiple times throughout this episode. She's the one who convinces the staff to ask Karen for a raise. And yet, she is never actually seen. I've learned that she was a regular character on the original run of the show. But Shelley Morrison will not be returning for the revival at all. So, I guess she'll always just be offscreen.
  • The various positions that Karen was getting into while she and Grace were trapped in the shower were hilarious. First, it shows how flexible she continues to be. And second, it shows how sexual she can be in any kind of situation. Grace is freaking out. Meanwhile, Karen is just enjoying the swim and being very inappropriate.
  • It's not surprising in the slightest that the show casts Ben Platt and then figures out a way to get his character to sing. Of course, it's played more as a nervous tick of his instead of something genuinely important to the plot. He has ADHD and just loves singing phrases instead of actually connecting with the information Will is telling him.
  • Jack's potential hookup is named Lincoln - not for his mother's favorite President but for her favorite brand of car. That's basically the only important detail about him as well. He's super excited to find where Jack is in the dark but his clapping turns the lights on to show the horror that Jack has become.
  • This can't possibly be the first time that the show has suggested it would be better if Will and Jack simply got together. Again, I haven't watched a single episode of the original series. I swear I'm not going to mention that in every review of the new episodes. It's just coming up now because I don't really have an informed sense of the history here. It doesn't seem like they should but that moment still lingers as well.