“I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far,” Vice President Biden said on “Meet The Press” in 2012, explaining his support for gay marriage.
The show debuted in 1998, the same year American parents tried to explain oral sex to their children and why anybody would beat Matthew Shepard to death. It went off the air in 2006, the year a puckish upstart from Illinois named Barack Obama shook hands with the Senate during his ascendancy to the presidency. Now, just as President Obama — who ended the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and bathed the White House in rainbow lights to celebrate the passage of marriage equality — is leaving office, Will Truman and Grace Adler are returning.
But, like hooking up with an ex from our 20s, is this reunion a good idea? Where is the demand for it?
“Will & Grace” was amazing for straight America. Maybe the “Will & Grace” reboot can be amazing for gay America, unfettered from its need to dilute itself for the straight palate.
Gay life — and gay television — has gotten a lot richer since “Will & Grace” went off the air. In the 11 years since “Will & Grace” ended, gay characters and gay life have become an entrenched part of the mainstream in shows as disparate as “Empire,” “Glee” and “Modern Family.” Even soap operas and action blockbusters such as “X-Men” and “Star Trek” have gay nods.
So we no longer need what “Will & Grace” was serving us in those woebegone days when even people as powerful as Anderson Cooper, Bruce Jenner and Ricky Martin felt the need to be closeted about who they really were.
The dirty secret of “Will & Grace” is that it was strong on the homo, weak on the sexual. Heterosexual Grace (Debra Messing) got all the good bedroom scenes and sexual storylines. (The episode in which she realizes she’s had sex with more partners but far fewer times than her boyfriend Nathan stands out.) While Will (Eric McCormack) and Jack (Sean Hayes) played out tired tropes of gays as snobby control freaks or happy-go-lucky promiscuous men, we rarely, if ever, saw them in bed, the notable exception being the time they woke up in bed together and spent the whole episode panicking — until they checked security footage and realized they hadn’t had sex. (Heaven forbid gay friends have sex with each other!)
The show doesn’t need to be what it once was, that charm offensive for the sake of straight America’s tolerance of LGBT America. So what would make “Will & Grace” relevant in 2017?
It would be nice to have sex scenes, for starters. If David Caruso’s and Dennis Franz’s backsides could fill our network television screens in 1995 and 2000, respectively, surely by 2017 we’ve reached a point where we can see Sean Hayes’s and Eric McCormack’s rumps. If Truvada, the HIV prevention pill, can appear in storylines on “How to Get Away With Murder,” surely it can be a steady, casual-to-serious presence on a “Will & Grace” reboot. Both Will’s on-screen father (Sydney Pollack) and Grace’s on-screen mother (Debbie Reynolds) are dead now; maybe the show could address unfinished relationships with parents. Maybe Will’s ex, Michael, contracts HIV. Maybe Will and Vince fight over conflicting views about having an open or polyamorous relationship (a fight I’ve seen savage many gay relationships). Maybe Jack’s now-adult son, Elliot, grapples with bullying.
The characters should address the death of gay nightclubs and bookstores. They should name-drop Wesley Morris and Roxane Gay more than Banana Republic or Barneys. They should go to a nude beach or a bathhouse. They should wrestle with the drug epidemic. They should debate marriage or sex addiction the way the “One Day at a Time” reboot beautifully and surprisingly debated God. It would be great to see these gay men grapple with middle age as a kind of Golden Girls prequel. They could call out the bigotry of seeing “no blacks, just a preference” in a dating-app profile. They could tackle the ugly desexualization of Asian men (just put Shonda Rhimes and Lin-Manuel Miranda in charge of casting). Anything smarter than Grindr jokes. And less vulgar than “Looking’s” anxious Googling about uncircumcised men ahead of a date with a Latino man.
Let the gay vanguard be avant-garde, something we can say in 2020 or 2030 was needed for our time. I’m not the only gay man to have been disappointed by “Looking.” Let this reboot be our “Atlanta,” our “Black-ish,” our “Fresh Off the Boat,” our “Master of None.” The show should make its audience uncomfortable, straight and gay and bisexual and transgender viewers alike, in the manner of the debut episode of HBO’s “High Maintenance” and its twisted critique of a gay man and his straight female roommate. The show’s creators should poach writer Julio Torres, the wickedly gay wit of “Saturday Night Live.” It should push the envelope, lick the envelope, fold it, rip it, singe it and do all sorts of things well-mannered envelopes don’t discuss in polite company.
There was an episode of “Will & Grace” in which guest star Demi Moore appeared as Jack’s former babysitter, who was still babysitting and ended up resuming that role in a delusional way with Jack. Eventually, she realized she had to move on. Hopefully, the show’s creators have taken that episode to heart, too.
CREDIT: Richard Morgan