Thursday, October 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'Will & Grace' - Jack Discovers a New Family Connection is At Risk in 'Grandpa Jack'

NBC's Will & Grace - Episode 9.04 "Grandpa Jack"

Jack is stunned to learn that his estranged son, Elliot, has a son of his own, Skip. Moreover, Skip needs the kind of help only Will and Jack can provide. Grace and Karen behave badly with the hot new guy at work.

This new season of Will & Grace has been on an upswing with each new episode so far. It started off rough but has improved considerably. That could be attributed to the fact that it's gotten more personal with the characters instead of just trying to make a statement on real-life politics. The stories are much more entertaining and meaningful when the characters can do that within the context of their own lives. And now, "Grandpa Jack" continues that upward trajectory. Well, it does so with the main story. I still have some problems with the subplot. And yet, this is also the first episode that doesn't feature three stories. In these opening episodes, I've been consistent in saying that the A-story has been the most interesting while the other two stories have been largely hit-or-miss. And now, this episode only has two stories. One covers Jack discovering that he is now a grandpa while the other features Grace and Karen dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. Both are very pointed and embellished stories. The main plot does well because it has the time to truly develop into something. It hits in a genuine way that highlights the humanity within Jack. So far, my experience of him has been as this broad, over-the-top gay who is a little too oblivious to what his life has become after all of these years of being in the same exact place. Meanwhile, the subplot with Grace and Karen is fine but basically just stops halfway through the episode. As such, it feels too simple and inessential. It reaches a foregone conclusion without really challenging the characters a whole lot. But again, the quality of the material continues to impress. It won't be long before I'm singing the praises of everything Will & Grace is doing this season.

The show doesn't waste a lot of time before getting to the heart of the episode either. Skip shows up in Jack's life very early on. Sure, the show basically just dodges the question of how Skip was able to escape his parents and navigate this new city to find Jack with relative ease. Plus, Jack isn't even in his own apartment. He's at Will's. How did Skip find him there? These are questions that are better left unanswered. It's just important that Skip shows up and drops the family bombshell immediately. And yes, the show does get in a couple of obvious jokes about how Jack is very youth-obsessed. He's very much concerned with outward appearances above all else. So, the fact that he's actually a grandfather is truly startling to him. It was probably a startling development when he was revealed to have a son on the original show as well. This episode doesn't really need to re-explain how that happened. It's basically easy to infer. The little exposition that does come is that Jack and Elliot have been estranged for a few years now. Elliot has moved to Texas, gotten married and had son. Jack wasn't even invited to the wedding. So, this new development is particularly shocking. Skip isn't just a baby or toddler either. He has an actual personality that informs so much of the actual story.

So, Jack is freaking out about what this new information means for him and his life. Will revels in the opportunity to mock him for this. But he also sees it as an opportunity for Jack to have a more genuine connection with this part of his family tree. He's Elliot's biological father. But he hasn't been a huge presence in his life. And now, Skip is reaching out to him for a reason. Jack and Skip are able to form an immediate connection because they see the world in similar ways. Jack has yet another freakout when he suspects that Skip is gay. All the clues are there even though the show notes that Jack is getting ahead of himself as well. Will cautions him to remain level-headed about this whole experience. And yet, Jack can't help but race to a conclusion. A door is opened and Jack is ready to have Skip in his life. He's ready to hear everything about Skip. The two of them are the same in that they both dressed as Lady Gaga for Halloween. Of course, Skip has a solid joke in wondering if Will and Jack even know who she is. He really has no perception of how old they are. Will even makes a great joke about Jack enjoying the compliment of being 85. But it's so short-lived as well. Skip's parents arrive to get him back to their schedule. Jack shows up in a ridiculous costume that further alienates this family unit. It's perfectly absurd and amusing while showing a clear case of longing as well.

The show is then able to pivot to a really genuine and emotional place. Elliot and his wife didn't bring Skip to New York to visit the city and see Jack. They brought him here to send him to a camp. As soon as that word was said, it was pretty clear where this story was headed. Elliot is dressed as a cowboy while his wife is full of disdain the moment she sees Jack in his over-the-top outfit. They are the kind of couple who would send their son to a gay conversion camp. Obviously, I don't have a full understanding of what Jack and Elliot's dynamic was like previously. But the two of them being estranged is enough to inform this story and how this kind of twist could be possible. As such, the story focuses on Will and Jack trying to break Skip out of this camp. It's a pretty ridiculous setup as well. They note that they can't just take him because that would be considered kidnapping. But it's also funny to see that the camp counselors are played by Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells. It's clear that they are both gay but trying to repress their feelings. The show really doesn't give them enough to do in this story though. They are asked to play these broad characters. Of course, there is some solid physical humor as well once the shock collar is introduced. Will is able to be playful about the whole situation as well even though he knows the importance of distracting these counselors so that Jack can have a conversation with Skip.

And that moment between Jack and Skip is so beautiful and heartfelt. Jack is telling Skip that he's absolutely wonderful the exact way that he is. As he grows up, he'll probably always be questioning if that's true or not. But Jack wants him to remember this moment in time. This moment where he's giving him this impassioned speech to make sure that he always stays true to himself and not conform to what the rest of the world defines as normal. It's so emotional and genuine. It shows that Jack really can be a supportive person who can put someone else's needs above his own. All of this is able to build to a happy resolution as well. Elliot doesn't overhear this conversation Jack has with Skip. But he and Jack had their own moment too. It was defined by Jack being horrified that Elliot could do this to his own son. That was an eye-opening moment for him. It's a decision that could ultimately cost him his marriage. The show leaves that in a pretty ambiguous way. He confirms that he and his wife got into an argument about not letting Skip stay at this camp. But that's basically the end of that. It's just more important that Elliot is there in the apartment with Jack leaving the future open to a healthier relationship moving forward. It's a sweet note to end the episode on. It ensures that Jack will have this family connection. It should be fascinating to see if it will continue to be an important part of his story this season. I hope so because I really enjoyed what this specific story revealed with him. It's a nice energy that should be encouraged more in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Grandpa Jack" was written by Alex Herschlag and directed by James Burrows.
  • Grace and Karen's story is at least pretty consistent. Karen complains about Grace wanting to work on Saturday. She thinks it's the day when a lady should be slinking back home after a night of passion. Grace is hesitant about all of that but ultimately comes around after their male co-worker puts his hand on her abdomen. That gets her going immediately. But there's not much more nuance than that.
  • Last week's episode ended with Grace getting closure about her failed marriage. And now, she has accepted that she is a sexual being in the prime of her life. She realizes that she needs romance in her life. It's an important realization for her. It will allow her to be ready to re-enter the dating scene. But it's not all that fun to watch either.
  • I have no idea what the production schedule for this show is actually like. And yet, there's at least one scene in this episode that must have been shot pretty recently. There's a joke about Karen throwing paper towels at Tony and him forcing her to donate a thousand dollars to hurricane relief. It feels like that just happened in real-life not too long ago and it's already being parodied here.
  • It's not surprising in the slightest that Will & Grace found an opportunity to get Anthony Ramos to sing. It's surprising that it didn't happen in his first episode. Of course, the premiere was pretty busy and introducing him was mostly an afterthought. But it's fascinating to see this workplace dynamic. Both Grace and Karen are lusting after him when they know they shouldn't.
  • The show is basically saying that modern-day gay conversion doesn't work because the messaging of these camps is so horrible. They aren't put together well. That may be simplifying this issue too much. It makes this a place to openly mock instead of fear. It's fun and Will gets a couple of good lines in that scene. But it's still a serious issue as well.
  • And yet, it's also great to just see Eric McCormack and Andrew Rannells kissing. Will is purposefully trying to distract this big performance. He's doing so by pretending to be the owner of a rival camp who is boasting about better conversion statistics. It doesn't even take much effort to get this kiss either.