Photos: Chris Haston/NBC

Man, this revamp is killing me. It’s getting harder to remember why I once liked these characters so much. This week, in an attempt to clunkily craft some commentary on immigration and modern-day progressivism, Will & Grace goes back to 1912 to show us all how much better we have it now. As if we wouldn’t know that a world with indoor plumbing has its advantages. Also, it should be pointed out, it’s not necessarily better for everyone.

What was the worst part: The accents? The anvil-ish speeches? The prospect of Will and Jack having sex? That may be the most disturbing of all, as we’ve seen the two be friends for so many years, it’s extremely difficult to picture them together—although aided here by loud thumping and boisterous yells of “Oh my god,” which honestly seemed a bit much for 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central (but where has Sean Hayes been hiding those guns all these years?) There was a flirty moment between the two a few episodes ago that makes me think that maybe the show is headed toward Jack and Will endgame. And like Chandler and Monica, maybe we’d all get used to it, and it would be interesting to see how Karen and Grace would deal with the main men in their lives in an actual relationship. But I’m grasping at straws here, because there was so little to like about the rest of the episode, even with the few points it gets for originality with this flashback.

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As the premiere episode of this Will & Grace revival showed, the show appears to have a really hard time balancing message and comedy. Obviously, it’s trying to show us how impossible things were for women, gay people, and immigrants a century ago. There’s something valuable in that (in fact, immigration would have been a helpful thing to bring up at Rosario’s funeral last episode). But Fanny’s speech, going on about “this country’s great freedoms” out of nowhere, seemed to be (optimistically) predicting the future: “We get it right eventually.” Who’s “we”? America? In 1912? Is she talking about the end of slavery? What in fact is she talking about? Fanny, by the way, is Debra Messing’s version of Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice (“No one likes a funny girl, Fanny”) who was born in 1891 so I guess it’s close enough. That accent is not, though. Some immigrants still go through sheer hell to get here and now, probably, many of them are wondering why, since the current regime is so far from welcoming. Maybe that’s why Fanny’s speech rang so falsely: She’s saying it to Will & Grace viewers, and so, pointlessly preaching to the choir.

Provocative wordplay only goes so far (best: Jack’s description that Will’s closeted landlord plays “the flute of the damned”). Whoops from the studio audience on a character’s entrance and fancy costuming, same. The show finally gets all the main characters together on a rare holiday occasion, and still we only get this, a portrayal we’re supposed to believe would be specifically detailed in an immigrant museum. At least their counterparts nicely correlated with the present-day selves: Karen’s a poor mother but still an addict, Jack’s a sailor happily traveling from man to man. The clips at the end were cute and show how much the cast still likes working together after all these years, and look, there’s James Burrows, and the whole finale offered a bit of a “pull the curtain back on the tenement” feel. But whatever fun these people are having on set, it’s still not translating for many watching at home.

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Topping it all off is Will’s instant 180-degree turnaround from total Grinch Scrooge to appreciating what we have this Christmas, even when times are tough. Sure, things are better for privileged people now like Will and Grace than they were in 1912, but it’s not like some people still don’t live in poverty and that some people aren’t still closeted. But yes, we still have a few things to be thankful for. It would be great if the return of Will & Grace was one of them.

Stray observations

  • New feature! Closest I came to actually laughing: 1912 Karen making fun of 1912 Grace’s clothes.
  • Also nice: The giant portrait of Debbie Reynolds in fake Will and Grace’s home.
  • Oreos were actually created in 1912, so there’s that.
  • So if that was actually supposed to be Smitty, that would make the bartender about 110 years old?
  • Why would the guy send Grace to a bathroom where the antique toilet wasn’t hooked up to anything?
  • This week in “Do I hate Grace’s outfit as much as Karen would?”: Actually, that teal dress in the present-day looked amazing on her. And would also fit right in if she turned out to be a wife in The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Because I’m rapidly forgetting what I ever liked about his show in the first place, I’m going to start offering antidote episodes. Like my favorite W&G holiday episode: season four’s “Moveable Feast,” where they try to cram in visits to everyone’s family and Rosario eats a whole turkey.
  • Next time: See you in 2018! What should Will & Grace’s New Year resolution be? I would say, quit with the messaging, and just be more funny—but if you want to stick with messaging, please be more funny about it.

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