“Gays hit mainstream” the headline read.
The year was 1998.
Bill Clinton was president and swore he “did not have sex with that woman”; Microsoft released Windows 98 as the most advanced computer operating program around the world; Titanic became the first film to gross over one billion dollars; the FDA approved Viagra for male erectile dysfunction; and Will & Grace debuted as a half-hour comedy on NBC in what was arguably the biggest boon for homosexual acceptance in history.
The show, of course, followed the adventures of a gay New York attorney named Will Truman (Eric McCormack) who shared an apartment with his gal-pal, straight interior designer Grace Adler (Debra Messing). They shared best friends Jack McFarland, a gay struggling actor played by Sean Hayes, and hyper horny straight rich bitch Karen Walker played by Megan Mullally.
On Monday, September 21, 1998, the quartet began what was to be an eight-year run, capturing 16 Emmy Awards along the way.
Fast forward nearly two decades and Will & Grace is back on NBC, primed to debut next Thursday, September 28 at 9 p.m. with the original actors still in place. Not much has changed over the years, including the appearance of the cast who apparently have found a magic elixir that erases any sign of aging. That Will and Grace are still living in the same apartment after all this time takes a bit of stretched imagination — particularly when you consider that when last we saw them, Grace had moved out, having married longtime boyfriend Leo (Harry Connick Jr.) with whom she had a daughter and lived in Rome. Will, on the other hand, had adopted a son with his lover Vince (Bobby Cannavale), with two dads and the boy taking over the old place.
Well, forget all about that, and much of everything else that came out in the storyline of the original series finale in 2006. While the apartment has gotten a facelift, the rest of the show is thankfully unfazed by time. Will still lives with Grace. Jack still pops in without knocking. And Karen is just as rich and sassy as ever.
What has changed is the cast’s willingness to attack politics — especially the political soap opera being played out in Washington with the antics of the Trump administration. What’s going on and wrong in this country is enough for Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen to pull out the stops and start worrying about their own future in this strange mix of white supremacists and radical demonstrations that we currently call America.
Had this show returned a year ago, there would not have been as compelling a reason to watch. Of course, it will be funny. And yes, the campy one-liners coming out of Jack’s mouth will still bring the major belly laughs to the show. But up until last year, the LGBT community had been making major legal advancements, having been sprung from its place in the closet of humanity — helped along ironically by the original Will & Grace series. Speaking about the acceptance of gay marriage to Meet the Press host David Gregory, then-vice president Joe Biden said, “When things really began to change is when the social culture changes. I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anybody’s ever done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”
With the arrival of the Trump administration, however, the LGBT movement is being handed multiple set-backs as the Religious Right gains an ear in the White House and the Republican-led Congress. Homophobia is not only rearing its ugly head, it is also being openly endorsed within the tenets of free speech.
Suddenly, we find that those who champion the rights of LGBTs, as well as gays themselves, need the support of this classic comedy more than ever.
Will & Grace is back, it is relevant, and it is hilariously entertaining. But more than that, the series, which has been picked up for 26 episodes spread over two seasons, is challenged with becoming spokesmen for a cause that is being suffocated by bigots and extremists.
Expect Will & Grace to be increasingly political in tone and effective in debating the rights of all the letters in LGBT.
Gays hit mainstream—again. And not a moment too soon.
(Photos: NBC Universal)