Thursday, November 2, 2017

REVIEW: 'Will & Grace' - An Unexpected Tragedy Has the Potential to Break Karen in 'Rosario's Quinceañera'

NBC's Will & Grace - Episode 9.06 "Rosario's Quinceañera"

When Karen has trouble dealing with a personal tragedy, Will, Grace and Jack try to intervene. Will and Grace's new business relationship begins to show signs of stress.

"Rosario's Quinceañera" feels like an episode that will play differently for the viewers who have seen the original run of the show. It is full of jokes and characters that reference and play homage to what has happened previously in this world. It is still an effective episode for people like me who have only experienced the new episodes airing in 2017. But I still wonder how an episode like this one will play to someone who has seen every episode of Will & Grace? Will this serve as a fitting goodbye for Karen's maid, Rosario? Will this be a fitting tribute to the loss of Grace's mother who was played by Debbie Reynolds? Is it rewarding to see Lorraine Finster again in this context? Do the jokes with Smitty still work? These are questions that I certainly don't have any answers to. I worry that this episode works for me because I don't have all of that baggage. No, I don't understand the nuances of what Rosario meant to the main characters. This episode sums up the broad strokes with her being Karen's maid and best friend while also needing to marry Jack in order to get a green card. But the story with Karen spiraling out because of all of this still worked wonderfully well because it's a story about the typically selfish Karen being forced to admit that she did genuine care about someone in this world. The same is true of Grace's big moment of emotion in crying about her mother's death. I have no context for what Debbie Reynolds was like on this show. But this story feels like it's general enough for it to play for the people who don't have that context. Yes, that may be a limitation to some people who want more specificity in these relationships. But it's beneficial to people like me in the audience even though I note how limiting it can still be for the show six episodes into its revived run.

Of course, this episode is also a vast improvement over last week's episode. "Rosario's Quinceañera" continues to prove that the show is at its absolute best when the four main characters are interacting with each other and commenting on something real and genuine in their lives. "Grandpa Jack" is still the best episode of the new season by far because it dug deeper into the depth of these characters and their positions in the real world. This episode doesn't have any parallels to real life that are all that significant. But it still gets to an honest place with Karen where she doesn't know how to react to this news that Rosario has died. This episode seemed inevitable the moment it was announced that Shelley Morrison wasn't returning for the new episodes because she has retired from acting. The character could have always just been offscreen. But for someone who was a part of the original show, that may not have been the best way to honor her. Plus, the show has already cast someone new as Karen's maid. That role doesn't seem all that significant. Again, I don't know how big of a role Rosario was in the first place. It has the feeling of being more important than the new one. As such, this episode should be emotional for the people who do have an investment in the Karen-Rosario relationship.

But this episode is a success because of the depths it reveals within Karen. Megan Mullally is a comedic treasure. I've known that for a long time. This show has proven to be a great use of her talents as well. The character is a familiar archetype. Karen is this vain woman who doesn't seem like she would get along with the other three characters but desperately needs them in her life to have genuine friends. She has this squeaky high voice that makes things even more hilarious because of how filthy her humor is. But it's nice to see that she isn't just a joke machine. She does exist in the real world. She's not just the eccentric friend of the group. She's not just the woman who has a job as Grace's assistant but never really takes work all that seriously. Now, it's important for her to have this extreme reaction to Rosario's passing. It's played for laughs in the early going. Rosario doesn't die right away. She suffers a heart attack and is in the hospital. Her passing happens very quickly as soon as Karen and Jack leave the room. But it's not something Karen wants to believe has happened. She believes Rosario would always be there for her. She's someone who could reliably go toe-to-toe with her. And now, she's gone. So, Karen has decided to throw a quinceañera-themed funeral. That's an amusing concept. One that is pushed to the extreme because of how demanding Karen is on Jack who is more than a little confused and exhausted by the end of the episode.

And yet, it's significant that Karen can't bear to actually attend the funeral. Her friends are stalling the ceremony to ensure that she is there to say goodbye to her maid. But she misses it. There is only so much Grace, Will and Jack can do. Instead, it's fitting to see each of them take turns in trying to convince her to come. They are all true to each of them and the dynamics they have with Karen. Grace makes it all about herself and the passing of her mother. Jack is forced to put on a show to amuse Karen. And finally, Will doesn't push too hard. All he does is hug Karen. That's the exact kind of love and support she needs right now. She missed the funeral but she's still in grief. She still needs to mourn this loss. She needs to find her own way to say goodbye. The show gives that to her. She is allowed to stay with the body for awhile. She is able to share that she enjoyed their dynamic and that the two of them were actually friends. That means so much to her. And now, it's a dynamic that will no longer be in her life. She's sad about that. Of course, the show gets the last laugh with that joke about Karen cleaning the casket with the spray that just so happens to be in there. That's just completely absurd and pandering to the audience for a laugh. But it's also completely unexpected and amusing.

Elsewhere, it's not surprising in the slightest that Will and Grace's new business together isn't going well. I still have my questions about how this new partnership actually works. They try to clarify here in saying that Will handles the business side while Grace is in charge of the creative. But is this still something that is professionally beneficial to both of them? Right now, it still seems more like fan service or a way to put some tension in their dynamic. The latter may ultimately be good because the show deserves some more recurring elements this season. The episodes so far have been very contained. Not many things actually carry over from episode to episode. This has the potential to do so. It was just predictable that things would be complicated between them now that they are starting to work together. They are arguing over the smallest issue as well. They don't have any sense of perspective despite someone they know having died. Instead, it's more amusing that they are having this conversation at Rosario's funeral. It's mostly just a story to bring some levity to this main plot. Of course, the story really didn't need to be broken up with more comedic moments. It had those as well. So, this story should be setting up how this new business will actually work. But it mostly just highlights how the two of them are arguing about whether they are working with each other or for Grace. It's a story that has some resolution in the end. But issues are still going to persist because that's the only way to keep this interesting moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Rosario's Quinceañera" was written by Tracy Poust & Jon Kinnally and directed by James Burrows.
  • It is surprising that Minnie Driver is able to make a return appearance as Lorraine Finster despite her regular commitment on ABC's Speechless. That's a show that is filming at the same time as this one. Plus, she's the lead character there. So, this scheduling must have been pretty interesting. And yet, it's clearly something that everyone involved wanted to do.
  • However, was it all that necessary to have Lorraine in the events of this episode? It has become clear that Karen has many enemies who she can be petty with. It presents the show with many opportunities. But Lorraine explains she's here because she and Karen are technically family. But that never really amounts to anything. Lorraine just walks into a room, misidentifies people for a few laughs and then leaves. It's not all that important whatsoever.
  • Judging by the big cheers he gets when he first appears onscreen, I'm guessing it's the same actor who plays Smitty as on the original series? Just watching that sequence it's clear that there is something I'm missing. It works perfectly fine without knowing that this is a recurring pattern for Karen in that she calls all bartenders "Smitty" and he jokes about some massive tragedy to offset whatever Karen is going through. Knowing it's a recurring feature may mean the show has gone to this well too many times though.
  • Jack is definitely making it seem like he and Rosario are still married. Is that the truth? I honestly can't tell. He's making jokes about it when she's simply in the hospital recovering. But when it comes to stalling during the service, he makes such a big deal about all of it because he's playing to a crowd that includes a group of nuns. It mostly feels like a weird story.
  • Due to Thursday Night Football, this is the last episode of Will & Grace for 2017. So far, it has been an interesting viewing experience. I've talked about not seeing any of the original episodes a lot. I doubt that will have changed once the show returns in January. End of year means getting caught up on some of the stuff I've missed elsewhere in 2017. But still, I could be optimistic. Either way I'm intrigued to see what else the show has planned this season.