As Will & Grace tries to redefine itself in 2017, it also appears to be grappling with its place on the political spectrum. As we know, the first episode was absolutely tone-deaf with joke attempts to lambast the Trump presidency. But since that first week, the show has gained more solid footing by remembering its roots. Week two touched on a LGBTQ generation gap, last week brought us some touching chemistry between Grace and her ex-husband and some inspired Jack and Karen moments. This week, though, Will & Grace reminds us why it was so important in the first place, and what it can still offer 11 years later.
W&G previously covered the gay conversion angle in a season two episode called “Girls, Interrupted,” when Jack and Karen infiltrated a “Welcome Home” club meeting because Jack had a crush on group leader Bill (Neil Patrick Harris). It turns out that every member of the club is there to meet other gay people, and Jack and Bill end up in a “a heterosexual soap-down” shower. It’s a funny episode from the show’s earliest days, topical and on-point, especially regarding the absolute futility of any “anti-gay” conversion efforts. (Even the B-story has its moments, with Will and Grace dealing with their wacky neighbor Val [Molly Shannon]).
W&G goes back to that well in “Grandpa Jack,” but it’s even more vital this time, because the show is dealing with a child. Jack’s son Elliot resurfaces this episode, only to reveal that he has a son of his own. That son, Skip, is gay and is being sent to a conversion camp upstate called “Straighten Arrow.” The camp is hilarious even as it is horrifying (a portrait of gay-conversion fan VP Mike Pence is displayed prominently), made all the more painful as the camp’s slogan tries to tell children that it’s not okay to be themselves.
It’s a reminder of the importance of Will & Grace in the first place: A view into the life of gay people that some Americans may have been unfamiliar with. Demystifying the gay world—on a network sitcom, no less—can help eliminate prejudice and ignorance. And for gay people watching from home in the 1990s, out or not, it must have been gratifying to finally see gay characters so prominently on the small screen.
Things are somewhat improved related to gay rights in 2017—as that second episode of this revamped series pointed out—but still far from perfect. Just this week, the president made a “joke” about Pence wanting to hang all gay people. For LGBTQ youth, who have a suicide rate that’s four times higher than average, these must be terrifying times.
Which is what makes this half of this Will & Grace episode (and only half) not only great, but important. I straight-up teared up during Jack’s pep talk to Skip because of how perfect it was, to tell him (and everyone): “This place can’t fix you, because you’re not broken.” And that Skip’s parents may not understand him, but “Grandpa Jack” always well. It’s still a vital message for every single person watching from home.
Even Elliot and Jack’s conversation at the camp was also helpful for showing the view from the other side: Jack and Elliot fell out because Jack couldn’t abide Elliot’s wife’s conservative beliefs. Elliot tells Jack that “You can’t judge someone for who they are,” but Jack could tell him the same thing; the difference being that Emma’s beliefs actually do judge Jack for what he is. Fortunately, Elliot and Emma have a bit of a magical turnaround by the end of the episode; I’ll allow it because it was fun to see Jack’s excitement over taking his grandson to his first Broadway show.
Openly gay stars Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells also nail their roles as the obviously closeted Straighten Arrow camp counselors Roberta and Reggie. The shock collar was even more horrifying, as some conversion therapies did use electroshock as an “aversion technique.” The new W&G streak of male kisses might have actually peaked with Reggie and Will’s, and I like that these clinches just keep getting hotter.
This A-plot is SO GOOD, the B-plot fares even worse than it would next to, say, a flaming pile of garbage. I don’t know how far in advance these episodes are planned, but I assume this one was in the works before the sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein and so many others over the past few weeks. Bad timing, but any instigation that Karen is harassing the office assistant (or grinding up against anyone who doesn’t want her to, even Grace: “You have got to stop sexually harassing the employees. It’s bad enough you do it to me.”) just landed with a thud this week. There has/had to be another way for Grace to realize that she needs to start dating again.
I liked the rest of the episode enough to even be able to get past that, which is saying a lot. Would have been an A episode for me otherwise, for sure.
- Spotted: picture of Grace and her mom (Debbie Reynolds) on a desk in their apartment. Sniff.
- Perfect delivery of Will’s reaction to Skip wanting to call Jack “Grandpa”: “Oh my god, you have to!”
- Also funny: “Edward Sissyhands”
- This week in “Do I hate Grace’s outfit as much as Karen would?”: Ohmygod, yes. A blouse that could give Seinfeld’s “puffy shirt” a run for its money and a patterned cat skirt?
- Next week: The cavalcade of guest stars continues as Max Greenfield shows up for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying”