The Case Against a ‘Will & Grace’ Reboot
Back in September, when Donald Trump becoming President was just a remote possibility and not a hard fact that most of us are still swallowing, the cast of Will & Grace reconvened for an “episode” that was really just an ad for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It didn’t seem to do much for HRC’s voter turnout, but it did create buzz suggesting that maybe the show would produce some actual new episodes. Now, as someone who greatly enjoyed this show growing up, and can still get into the odd rerun on Lifetime, I could see where this would seem like an exciting development. But while it may some fun in theory, there are multiple reasons why Will & Grace 2.0 would be a disaster in practice.
For one thing, the show already had a successful run. It lasted for eight full seasons, and it gave every major character a satisfying conclusion. Usually, when a show is brought back from the dead, it’s because it was canceled too soon in its original run or it left certain pressing questions on the table. Neither of those things are true for Will & Grace, so there’s no real impetus to bring it back other than “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to watch some new Will & Grace episodes?” Taking this into consideration, it’s quite likely that the show would operate without much purpose other than sheer nostalgia. From that perspective, it would be a somewhat less bad version of Fuller House, but not much more.
Perhaps more importantly, there’s the question of how a new Will & Grace would fit into the culture of 2016. When the show debuted in 1998, it was often praised for its portrayal of gay characters. Notice that I didn’t say how it portrayed them, just the mere fact that yes, Will & Grace did, in fact, acknowledge that gay people existed. That’s how low the bar was in the late 90s, where very few shows were willing to address homosexuality. Now, we live in the world of Modern Family and Transparent, and LGBT representation on television is far more common then it was then. Why would this be a problem? Because if we’re being honest, Will & Grace‘s portrayal of its gay characters often wasn’t all that progressive. The show dealt in obvious stereotypes all the time, and even though Jack McFarland’s antics were always good for a laugh, seeing someone so stereotypically flamboyant might not work in 2016. Even Will, the more down-to-earth of the two main gay characters, was often involved in jokes where the punchline was “see, because gay people do that!” During its original run, Will & Grace was able to get away with this type of humor (although it’s worth noting, it was criticized for it then, too), largely because LGBT representation was so rare. That’s no longer the case, and in a TV landscape where LGBT characters are far more complex than Will and Jack could ever hope to be, Will & Grace‘s broad characterizations might seem lacking at best, and offensive at worst.
If you’re looking for a similar situation to compare this to, consider the unmitigated disaster that was the Entourage movie. This was a case of culture shifting and leaving a once-beloved piece of entertainment behind. When Entourage was in its original run, it was praised effusively by critics, while Ari and Turtle became household names. In theory, a movie seemed perfect. The problem was, this was a show that essentially portrayed white male entitlement at its most unhinged. Furthermore, the female characters on the show often had paper thin personalities and pretty much only existed because the male characters needed them to. At the time, no one really cared because, well…the show was fun! The antics of Johnny Drama and company were just a good time, and no one ever really analyzed them. However, in the time between the end of the series and the release of the movie, modern feminism had an increasingly strong presence in film and television criticism. Suddenly, a show about rich white guys without any real problems just seemed dated, and the movie felt like a relic as it flopped at the box office. A Will & Grace reboot could face a similar fate if it continues to traffic in the stereotypical gay humor that marked its original run.
Admittedly, there are ways to fix this. Since the show ended in 2006, the characters would likely be a decade older, and more mature. This could be an opportunity for some serious evolution, particularly with Jack’s character. If the show were to make him more introspective and less self-involved, that could actually be interesting. Of course, Jack was also a lot of people’s favorite character, so there would have to be a balanced approach. Basically, don’t ruin who he is, but give him a little more depth beyond his outlandish personality, and make him a little bit less aggressively flamboyant. If a new version of Will & Grace was actually willing to evolve its characters, and exist for reasons other than nostalgia, it might actually be worth watching.
Still, I’m skeptical. The show had a good run, and there’s no real reason to bring it back. Frankly, this seems like the kind of idea that the member berries from South Park would have cooked up. “‘Member Will? ‘Member Grace?” “‘Member Jack and Karen?” “Yeah, I ‘member!” As we saw with Fuller House, bringing back a show that already had a lengthy run for no reason other than “Hey, why not?” often produces tepid, uninteresting results. When you couple that with how dubious the show’s trafficking in gay stereotypes might look in 2016, the reasons to be pessimistic about a Will & Grace reboot far outweigh the reasons to be excited about one. Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen had a nice run, but instead of engaging in more nostalgia-for-the-sake-of-nostalgia, let’s just leave them in the early 2000s, where they belong.