Thursday, January 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'Will & Grace' - Will and Grace are Uncomfortable with Their Latest Love Interest in 'Friends and Lover'

NBC's Will & Grace - Episode 9.08 "Friends and Lover"

Will and Grace try to convince themselves they are okay with dating the same man, the charismatic "Bad Boy of Bread" (Nick Offerman). Jack and Karen get an annoying commercial jingle stuck in their heads and must seek medical attention.

These new episodes of Will & Grace have been very erratic. Sometimes even in the same episode. At times, it has felt like the show has a lot of spastic ideas for what these characters could be up to nowadays. But there really isn't a lot of nuance or thought into any of them that allows it to feel important and necessary. Yes, there have been some great moments this season - Grace and Leo talking things out, Jack meeting his grandson, Karen dealing with Rosario's death. But those moments are becoming more fleeting on this show. "Friends and Lover" is one of the more cohesive episodes of the season. It only features two stories - the main plot with Will and Grace sleeping with the same man and the subplot with Jack and Karen being unable to get a song out of their head. They are somewhat connected but not really. Jack only hears the jingle in the first place because of Will and Grace. The resolution to the subplot comes from Jack and Karen making fun of what's going on with Will and Grace right now. But that's about all there is in terms of connective tissue to these stories. It's an odd mix. These stories have the time to actually develop and become something of interest - unlike some of the previous episodes. But the longer they go on the more it became clear that the show wasn't really inspired by either concept. It just didn't know what else to do this week. And that is very frustrating and disappointing.

Will & Grace has frequently been at the forefront of LGBT visibility. It's a show that has frequently been credited for normalizing gay culture. People can debate whether or not the show was a healthy reflection on what gay people are like. With these new episodes, there is less pressure to be the one show actually talking about these stories. But there's also some expectation that the show will continue to be on the forefront of visibility in the hopes that it can continue to be relevant in today's world. But the worldview in "Friends and Lover" just seems off in the main story. It's basically just the show being overly amused by the idea of Will and Grace being freaked out by sleeping with the same man. That's about as deep as this story goes. The characters themselves play it off as sexuality being fluid for the younger generation. For them, sexual identity is clearly gay or straight. That's not exactly the case. That could be a way to highlight the bias that these characters have in this world where they are happy and healthy in their own little bubble. After all, their love interest is played by Nick Offerman, who is in the same age range as Eric McCormack and Debra Messing. But it's just weird that he is written off as being symbolic of a younger generation who can simply take all the blame for what ultimately happens in this story.

And of course, the show just has to casually forget that Nick Offerman was in a previous episode. That's not surprising at all considering he is married to Megan Mullally and they frequently work together. That's a fact that the show plays into as well with that punchline at the very end with Karen saying Jackson isn't her type at all. But it's still annoying because this story especially plays as "look at the name guest star we have this week!" That's not an inherently bad thing. It's something the show has played into in the past as well. But it is frustrating here because the character type is just off-putting. It's not bad because of Jackson's behavior that builds to him trying to get Will and Grace to eat bread laced with snake venom. It's bad because of what the show is asking the audience to find funny about this situation. There is nothing inherently wrong or funny about bisexuality. It's as perfectly normal as heterosexuality and homosexuality. There's no reason for the audience to audibly gasp after Jackson comes onto Will immediately after he's done the same to Grace. But that's the basis for this story for awhile. It's all about the amusing and cute sneaking around that keeps Will and Grace from figuring out they're sleeping with the same man for a couple of days. Those are sequences that feature Jackson wandering around the apartment naked as well - which mostly feels like a way for the show to seem audacious with how far it's pushing its boundaries. It's just not all that effective.

And then, the truth does come out. Jackson just wanders right into the living room while Will and Grace are talking. They both falsely believed they couldn't tell the other about the man they were currently seeing. He cautioned them to avoid talking about it because he's a celebrity. The story then basically becomes about Jackson trying to bring the three of them together. Again, there's nothing wrong with this being something Jackson is into while Will and Grace aren't sexually attracted to that suggestion. But the show just over plays it for the broad comedy of Will and Grace being so completely immature about all of this. The show wants to say that they are older now and open to new things. They want to prove that they can still go out and have adventures all the time. They don't want to be the boring old couple who never do anything. But the show pushes them into the extreme to prove that a night watching Netflix together really isn't so bad after all. It's just lame and uninspired. This show isn't the first to do something like this and it certainly won't be the last. It just pushes things too far without really having any sense of the genuine emotions involved in the decision making. All it does is basically confirm that Will and Grace are still two giant messes at this age as they were on the original show despite it being more of a struggle for them to get down on the ground and back up again.

Meanwhile, the subplot with Karen and Jack only seems to exist because they needed something to do this week. And yes, that character pairing can frequently lead to hilarity. They are the broader characters of the ensemble. But they do have a compelling dynamic of insanity to them. It's fun watching them sing this jingle together. And yet, it also feels like a story that takes place in a sitcom instead of something that can happen in the real world. Yes, it's relatable to get a song stuck in one's head for a little while. But this show pushes it to the brink of Jack and Karen seeking medical help for that. That's all just to get the two of them in the same room as Jackson because the show couldn't have Nick Offerman on without him interacting with Megan Mullally at some point. That seemed inevitable. But it's also such a strange story that revels in the broadness of the way it is being delivered. It's not offering some strong commentary on the potential consequences of jingles like this and their effectiveness of sticking in people's minds to ensure that that they do what the company wants them to do. It's just played as this incredibly silly thing that Jack and Karen take completely out of proportion. It's just suppose to be funny seeing them slap each other before coming to the resolution that all they needed to do was gossip about Will and Grace. That's lame, weird and all around not great.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Friends and Lover" was written by Suzanne Martin and directed by James Burrows.
  • The only truly original idea from this episode may be the fact that Will, Grace and Jackson meet in a bread-making class. That makes for a couple of good puns that connect bread with sex. But it's also clear that Jackson loves bread in a sensual way. Or perhaps he's just an overly sexual guy - which is another poor characteristic to associate with him.
  • Why would Grace trust Karen with her secret relationship? It happens largely because both Will and Grace need to tell Jack and Karen about it. The payoff to the subplot only works if Jack and Karen are in the know. But the Grace-Karen dynamic isn't one of loving trust. Karen would reveal anyone's secret if it suited her. So, if Grace thinks it's important to keep the truth about Jackson a secret, why would she tell Karen? The show does address this slightly but it's still a little annoying.
  • The jingle that gets stuck in Jack and Karen's head is apparently for a program called Trucks for Tots. That may just be a play on Toys for Tots. The point of this story is mostly seeing Jack and Karen singing it over and over again. But it's not as catchy or memorable as the show would make the audience believe. Like who in the audience could sing it after this episode?
  • The show has always suggested that Will and Grace are the perfect partners for each other. But it also always cringes whenever someone suggests that they are too close or that they should just have sex with each other. It's a weird tone that always feels just a little too contradictory. Nothing new is really brought to the table here.
  • When the show went on its winter hiatus, I teased that I might see some of the episodes from the original run before the show came back to see the show at its creative peak. Unfortunately, that didn't happen because of the other content in the world I needed to watch plus have a personal life. So, the revival episodes are still the only Will & Grace episodes I've seen.