Photo: Chris Haston (NBC)

One of the best, most fun parts of the old Will & Grace was the interchangeability of the groupings of the four main leads. Will and Grace, Jack and Karen, Will and Jack, Grace and Karen, all four leads together… all these combos have their advantages. But the diagonal dyads of Jack and Grace and Will and Karen may have had the most to offer, just because it was the most unusual. And the unbridled zaniness of the two players the show is not named after always seemed to bring out the best in their rarer counterparts. That recharged chemistry is what makes “Three Wise Men” so effective. From Jack’s continual one-upmanship of Grace’s sexual exploits to Karen’s continual dressing down of Will’s lame stories, it’s a near-perfect 22-minute sitcom package.

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It also wins points for actually pulling off something I hadn’t experienced in a long while: a sitcom complication I did not see coming. One complication of being an almost-50-year-old woman who’s dating is that yes, you could possibly have slept with three generations of the same family. But I gasped delightedly when J.J. (that probably stands for James Junior, right? Oh god) walked out of the elevator. Debra Messing hammed it up beautifully, like Lucille Ball caught in a sexual snafu. Going on record as saying that Barry Bostwick is always welcome, and I couldn’t figure out why James looked so familiar until I looked it up and discovered that he was the Reverse Flash. Honestly, as slightly scruffy James, I never would have recognized him. And that’s Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau’s brother Andrew as J.J. Sure, the fact that all three men are so closely related is a convenient coincidence for the sake of a sitcom plot, but the end result is so fun, I’m willing to let it slide.

And even that superior influx of guest stars is especially heightened by Jack’s mini-Greek chorus of reactions. Sean Hayes’ confused whipping around looking for validation of the professor’s ramblings absolutely killed me. And I assume that a visit from Jack’s mother is imminent, otherwise Will’s question about how Jack’s mom is doing with his new relationship seems even more out of the blue. Still, it made for a hilarious one-sided phone call: “No, you do not hang up on me, Judith!”

The B-plot also had its high points, but we have to take some marks off for Will & Grace’s continued upper-class Manhattan privilege, wherein they treat Karen’s servants like actual puppets. It might be funny when the poor elderly maid drops all the Waterford glasses, but it’s also rather cruel. If we can look past that (granted, a big if), there’s lots to enjoy in Will and Karen’s makeshift telenovela, especially a creepy guest turn by Dan Bucatinsky as Will’s wannabe date Neil (“the smiley face emoji is going to be you!”), a searing one-liner at Shia LaBoeuf’s expense (just tap a mirror with a razor blade three times and he will appear), and a super-hot man-on-man makeout session at the end. And Will’s insistence on fixing the unrequited love situation in the kitchen by adding himself as a romantic obstacle is very much a Will move.

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This episode is the latest outing by Tracy Poust and Jon Kinnally, who also wrote the effective “The Wedding” and had some nice moments in “Rosario’s Quinciniera.” Hopefully the show quickly lines them up with some more episodes, because “Three Wise Men’ was a very welcome return for the show post-Olympics. As much as we may despair that there are no fresh sitcom plots left—the misunderstanding! the accidentally booking two dates for the same night! the pointless feud with the teacher/neighbor/co-worker! the annoying friend we want to get rid of but are too nice to say so!—“Three Wise Men” managed to pull of not one but two, and in admirably funny fashion.

Stray observations

  • I like how Will has a drill prepared for when Grace gets dumped.
  • The “mmm”ing that all three Wise men do was a great audio gag.
  • James shrugs and gives up on getting Grace to go look at the moon with him: “You know what? It’s just a moon.”
  • Looks like Dan Bucatinsky’s first appearance as Neil was in a 2000 episode; that’s a long time to wait for a second date.
  • Already heard that “man being inside the Statue Of Liberty” joke in Crimes And Misdemeanors.
  • This week in “Do I hate Grace’s outfit as much as Karen would?”: That bizarre, large-sequined burgundy blouse she kicked off the episode with, definitely. But that blue print dress wit the leather jacket was so cute, I hope I’m able to find it online (even though the last time I looked up one of Grace’s dresses, it turned out it was like $5,000).
  • Next episode: The episode title alone is enough to confound me— “Sweatshop Annie And The Annoying Baby Shower” but it looks like Jennifer Lopez makes a return appearance, probably to help push her own NBC show, Shades Of Blue.

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