Thursday, October 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'Will & Grace' - Grace Tries to Figure Out How Her Marriage to Leo Fell Apart in 'Emergency Contact'

NBC's Will & Grace - Episode 9.03 "Emergency Contact"

Grace is shocked to find that the emergency contact called by her doctor's office is ex-husband Leo, not Will. Jack takes on a new job he never expected to love. Karen befriends a 12-year-old in the Bronx, despite her best efforts.

Will and Grace are living together again because Grace is getting a divorce from her husband, Leo. That was the explanation given in the very first episode of this revival. It was just a way for the show to justify why its central premise has been maintained after all of these years. It was nothing more than a throwaway line. In these opening episodes of the season, it has just been important that the gang is back together and everything is exactly the same. Of course, the most exciting and accessible moments of the new season are when the show highlights the passage of time. It was effective last week with Will and Jack accepting who they are comfortable dating. And now, it's incredibly effective when Leo makes his return to the narrative as Grace goes through a personal crisis. It's a very strong main story for the week. The overall episode suffers a little bit because the subplots with Jack and Karen are pretty broad and lame. They bring the levity to the episode even though they have some meaningful things to say about show business and women's health too. It's just so much more engaging to see Grace reflect on the past and the role she has played for winding up exactly where she has always been in her life. She is forced to reckon with the bond she has with Will and if that was truly damaging to her romantic relationships. That's a fascinating and strong story for her. It plays to Debra Messing's strengths incredibly well. It's serious while still having moments of humor as well.

It's just going to be a simple, normal day for Grace too. She's made herself pretty because she's going to the gynecologist. She's excited for the day. Then, the story just cuts to her waking up in the doctor's office having no clue what has just happened to her. It's a mystery for the audience as well. It's a strange and new environment. The show plays it as a walk down memory lane because her nurse also happens to be someone who's had run ins with Grace before. That moment does feel like fan service. It's the show commenting on its own history for the fans who've been along for the entire ride. It's funny if you remember that Grace wanted to get pregnant with Will as her sperm donor. This happens to be the same nurse from that experience. And yet, it's a beat that doesn't work for me because it feels too forced. It's not because I have no reference point for this story. It just takes the audience out of the moment for what's actually going on with Grace right now. As such, it's silly. The nurse is perfectly fine as a character because she has an awkward bedside manner. She's not all that comforting to Grace in this moment. She makes it sound very matter-of-factly that she has cancer even though no one knows yet. That's amusing - as well as the running joke about it being in Grace's bigger breast as well.

The true hook of this story comes when Leo enters the picture. He is still listed as Grace's emergency contact. He's the one to pick her up and make sure she gets home safely instead of Will. It's an error on her part because she gave the responsibility of changing it to Karen. For something so important, it's odd that she hands it off to a person she knows can be unreliable. And yet, that's what occurred in order to make this plot occur. Of course, it's a lot of fun too. Grace doesn't want to be interacting with Leo like this. She's lashing out because she may have cancer. But she's channeling that uncertainty into lashing out at him. She's making fun of his accent that comes out when he wants to be impressive. She's determined to get the last word in their conversation. When she comes home to Will, she's more than comfortable breaking down and being emotional. She can be that vulnerable with him because she trusts him completely. They have always had that relationship. Meanwhile, she's just annoyed that Leo keeps sticking around even though he doesn't need to anymore. All he had to do was bring her home. He did that but chose to stay and make his presence known to Will. He feels the need to note that Will should have always been Grace's emergency contact because they are much closer than their actual marriage ever was.

That's a pretty damning statement to make. Of course, it does get Grace thinking about her life and her relationships. She doesn't immediately see herself as too close with Will. But it's also important for her to realize that Leo does have a point. Sure, he was cruel to say that Grace never tried to make their marriage work because she was never willing to commit and escape from Will. But Will is also right in pointing out that Grace and Leo tried everything to make their marriage work. That leads to a fun recurring joke where they both believe they tried golfing to appease the other. It's also fun to see all of this told through a Princess Diana metaphor. That's completely fitting for these characters while also having a strong parallel to their lives - even though Leo technically gets to be Princess Diana. And Grace can't help herself from confronting Leo about this. This leads to the most important scene of the episode. The two of them in Leo's office discussing how their marriage fell apart for the second time is very poignant. It's allowed to be funny with Grace knocking over the display and Leo blaming her for stealing the plastic heart. That's a nice and easy moment. It shows that the chemistry was always there between them. But they just couldn't make their marriage work for personal reasons. They couldn't connect in a way that actually made it healthy. They wanted it to but it just didn't. And now, there is acceptance with that. That's very nice to see and highlights a lot of growth within the characters.

And then, Jack and Karen are just completely absurd as they are interacting with a bunch of kids. It's a silly story because it has very little to do with the very successful main plot. They didn't need to be literally linked somehow. But some thematic resonance would have been very much appreciated. The only real connection is Karen taking the day off because of Grace's doctor's appointment which creates a situation where she needs to help a girl who has gotten her first period. That connection is very tenuous though. It's a story that only barely works because of Megan Mullally. She has so much fun with this character. She can go wickedly over-the-top a lot of the time. But it's nice to see that she isn't as selfish as she lets on. It was just much more genuine and poignant in last week's episode which basically featured her in the same story but with Grace instead of this random girl. Meanwhile, Jack's story just shows that he is continuing to work crazy, odd jobs. He believes he has finally made it as an actor only to get the crushing realization that he can't even book a commercial. There's nothing better out there for him than teaching. So, he does that and is completely inconsequential to one kid's success. That kid has natural talent and just needed the extra push in order to perform in front of everyone. That's a surprising moment. But again, it's still wildly disconnected from everything else in the episode while only highlighting how self-involved Jack still is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Emergency Contact" was written by Nina Pedrad and directed by James Burrows.
  • Jack prides himself on being a platinum star gay which is a gay man who has never been with a woman and who was born via a C-section. It's a crude joke that comes out of both Jack and Will being grossed out by the doctor Grace is about to see. Of course, Will is still willing to translate for Grace once she's confused by what Jack is talking about.
  • Just how old is Karen? At first, she says that she got her period in 1959. That then changes to 1969, then 1979. It's clear she's very vain about her age and what's to connect to this young girl. But she actually does that by talking about the family she grew up in and how no one was there to help her during this transformative time in a young girl's life.
  • That's new Saturday Night Live featured player Chris Redd as Alvin, the guy at the Boys and Girls Club pointing Jack in the right direction for his class. He's not here for any genuine reason. He just enjoys the perks that come from this job and will enjoy them as long as the health care remains free. That's a nice political jab in the middle of this random story.
  • That fight to get the last word is a somewhat childish argument that turns out to be a really important feature of this story between Grace and Leo. She makes such a big deal about it. She doesn't want him to get the last word. It's funny when he ultimately does because the elevator doors are closing. But it's also poignant when she does it at the very end because it has a newfound sense of clarity to it as well.
  • This is also just an episode where Will and Grace are eating their feelings. Will is doing it because he's reliving everything related to Princess Diana. He's putting himself through that because he just cares so much. Grace is doing it because she can't celebrate not having cancer because Leo has gotten into her head about how their marriage fell apart.