Halfway through the first episode of the much ballyhooed Will and Grace reboot it occurred to me that all the snarking, whining and general complaints I had been lodging silently in my head about the show were for naught. Watching the first three episodes—minus the premiere, which felt like a bad play about the absurdities of the Trump Administration—was a little bit like catching up with old friends and basking in the familiarity that comes with people you haven’t seen in some time, but still like enough to get a drink with.
I kind of hate myself for liking it. Aiming for the nostalgia vote feels cheap in 2017, when shows like Stranger Things are banking on your warm and fuzzy memories of riding bikes in neighborhoods where no one locked the door, and reboots like Fuller House are hoping that viewers have enough fond memories of the saccharine family sitcom that they’ll tune in, even though the content that they’re consuming is bad.
The 10-episode revival will feel familiar to viewers who watched eight long seasons of Will, Grace, Jack and Karen quip, quibble, and pratfall their way through the end of the ’90s and the beginning of the 2000s. As Slate’s Willa Paskin notes, what’s most noticeable about Will and Grace in 2017 is that the context in which they’re seen has changed. A show about two gay men and two women who are friends, frenemies and each other’s support systems is no longer transgressive. Will and Grace as it stands would never be made now; it’s a show meant not necessarily to attract younger audiences but to play to the comfort of its original fans, who wish they still could tune in to an “edgy” sitcom with a laugh track and watch Debra Messing perform spit takes with alarming regularity.
Despite a 20-year time jump that is easily explained away, nothing else has much changed. Will and Grace are living together again because Grace got a divorce; Jack still lives across the hall and Karen is a Republican. The dynamic between the characters is still as warm and as effortless as it was during its heyday. Out of the three episodes available for review, the first was the most uncomfortable to watch. Will, Grace, Jack and Karen didn’t have to address the Trump presidency but they did, in a plot that finds Will trying to fuck a shitty Senator, Grace ultimately choosing money over morals and agreeing to decorate the Oval Office and Jack and Karen just along for the ride. There’s a Cheetos joke. Two characters— I’ll let you guess who— say the word “woke.” Grace refers to both her pink pussy hat (now used to smuggle candy into a movie theatre) and “resisting” with the dismissive attitude of someone who is not really affected by White House policy changes and is therefore able to feign outrage from a comfortable distance. That episode kept the old spirit intact, but ended with a pillow fight in the Oval Office and closed with a shot of a Make America Gay Again hat placed on the chair where Trump ostensibly sits—an empty political “action” that placates more than anything else.
Perhaps because this is just a short “revival” and not a full-on reboot of the series, it seems like each episode will have a specific bone to pick with society at large. The second deals with Will and Jack’s anxiety about getting older as gay men; in one scene, Jack is aghast when a 22-year-old refers to him as a daddy, but Will is thrilled to be called an “anchorman” by another millennial (the disaffected, Snapchatting Blake, played by Ben Platt of Dear Evan Hansen). When Will realizes that Blake has no concept of the struggle his forebears went through to ensure the ease of his existence, he lectures him at length about gay history.
The third episode brushes briefly with Grace’s mortality—she has a cancer scare that is actually not cancer—and reintroduces Leo, her doctor ex-husband, played with a patient weariness by Harry Connick, Jr. At one point, Leo tells Grace that they reason they broke up was not because of him, but because of the “weird thing” that she and Will have. That “weird thing” is nothing more than a lack of boundaries, a symbiotic relationship between two grown adults who should be able to function on their own. It was cute for its time, in an era when the gay best friend was a popular pop culture accessory, but in 2017, feels a bit sad—but only for a moment. The show was resurrected for a very specific set of people with very specific issues and experiences— white liberals incensed by Trump with a distinct inability to see past their own noses. It’s a show that I don’t want to like, but somehow, I do.
Max Mutchnick and David Kohan aren’t trying to make a show that asks its viewers to hold hard truths to the light or to take it very seriously. That may have been its purpose when it first aired, but now these characters feel like relics. It wouldn’t be interesting if they evolved, and it might even be bad. A 10-episode arc feels right; the news of the second season being greenlighted before the first even premiered means that they’ll have to really work to see how far this shtick can go.
Will and Grace and Jack and Karen are sitcom escapism, complete with laugh track. It’s comforting, bland tapioca pudding. I hate myself a little for saying this, but it’s nostalgia done absolutely right—and it’s really not that bad.