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'Will & Grace': 50 Greatest Moments (Part 1)
It's been nearly 10 years since we last saw Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally hamming it up on the groundbreaking series about four gay guys, two of whom happened to be biological women. But on Febnurary 21, the cast of Will & Grace and other beloved sitcoms--including Friends, Taxi, and Cheers--will reunite to pay tribute to the legendary television director James Burrows, who directed all 188 episodes of Will & Grace.
Ellen DeGeneres kicked open television's closet door in 1997, but a year and a steep ratings decline later, ABC canceled the show--ostensibly for being too gay. About five months later, Will & Grace premiered. I was 12 going on 13--not quite out, but I knew. Hell, anyone with a mildly functioning gaydar knew, but it still wasn't okay for me to come out. Within a month of Will & Grace's premiere, Matthew Shepard was murdered. Being gay wasn't something to laugh about, but here was Will & Grace. And it was fucking hilarious.
I immediately identified with Jack (Hayes), a flamboyant queen with an unshakable if impractical dream of being a star. Ahead of its September 21 debut date, I remember reading about the show in TV Guide (when that was still a thing), which praised the characterization of Will, but was less favorable to Jack. Will was "normal" (read: straight-acting) and Jack was the stereotype. For a kid who was twirling around to Diana Ross out of the womb, someone like Jack wasn't a stereotype, he was hope. Here for the first time was a life I could imagine for myself and that I wanted for myself--as an out and proud gay man living in New York.
From those first few episodes, I was hooked. I memorized every line, every zinger, every double-take and prat-fall. As much as Will & Grace informed my gay sensibilities, it also informed my comedic sensibilities. Karen Walker (Mullally) became not only my spirit animal but my shaman of schtick. The combination of great writing, great directing and one of the greatest sitcom casts ever proved irresistible. Even in the later seasons, when the writing got lazy and the show rested on a neverending cavalcade of A-list guest stars, it was always a pleasure to watch McCormack, Messing, Hayes and Mullally riff off one another.
I started coming out to my friends in mid-2000, when I was 14. By then, Will & Grace had become a cornerstone of NBC's long-forgotten "Must See TV" time block--a top 10 rated show and an awards darling. From 1998 to 2006, Will & Grace garnered an impressive 83 Emmy nominations, earning 16, including one for Best Comedy Series for its nearly perfect second season. Will & Grace is also among only four shows (including All in the Family, The Golden Girls and The Simpsons) for which the entire main cast won at least one Emmy.
Still, the show was not without its detractors. In fact, Will & Grace probably gets an unfair wrap sometimes --it's been accused of giving a reductive view of gay culture and for relying too heavily on (and even reinforcing) stereotypes. Admittedly, for most of the series, Will and Jack are gay in theory but rarely in practice. Grace and Karen probably saw more action (with each other) than Will and Jack ever did, at least on-camera. And all of Karen's thinly-veiled racist and homophobic remarks probably wouldn't fly in today's P.C.-dominated world. But if Ellen opened the closet door, Will & Grace set that door on fire and watched it burn as it became a cultural touchstone.
While Will & Grace might seem a product of its time--those Dark Ages known as The Bush Years--ultimately the country is a better place because of it. By inviting gay people into the homes of millions of people across America, and the world, the show helped make it okay to be gay. Not just for tweenaged me, but for a lot of people, including Vice President Joe Biden.
"I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done so far," Biden said in 2012, while President Obama was still waffling over marriage equality. "This is evolving."
Shows like Modern Family, Looking, Transparent and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have built upon the legacy of Will & Grace, creating diverse and complex portrayals of the LGBT community that weren't possible 10 years ago.
It's one thing for a TV show to stand the test of time, it's another for it to be a part of changing the times. And it's still fucking hilarious.
Here, part one of a celebration of the greatest, gayest, most iconic and just plain funniest moments from Will, Grace, Jack and Karen.
GIFs and nostalgia: Les Fabian Brathwaite