Will & Grace, S09E01: “11 Years Later”

Will & Grace, S09E01: “11 Years Later”

One of the Early 21st Century’s Biggest Sitcoms is Still Goofy, Innocuous and Painfully Mediocre


Too toothless to be offensive and too inconsequential to hate, Will & Grace returns with “11 Years Later”. As a reintroduction to the series, it’s an episode that tries to be both edgy and comforting but, ultimately, is nothing if not one thing: preposterously, irredeemably dull.

Rating 3.5/11


Will & Grace was never cool. For a while there is was definitely relevant and, arguably, it did a lot for the inclusivity of gay men (however stereotypically portrayed) on television. But it was always kinda like your amiable aunt or uncle, the one who’s only ten or so years older than you but constantly seems to be dropping outdated references. Sure, they’re still endearing and occasionally kinda funny, but they always seem to be trying just that little bit too hard.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that this is a quality that has only gotten worse in the time that Will & Grace has been off the air. “11 Years Later” – which, as the title implies, picks up right where we left off when the show finished more than a decade ago – straight away evokes a time in the nebulous past but seems to want to pass it off as right now. Will and Grace are at the old apartment playing Heads Up! (three years too old), when Jack badmouths Grindr (six years too old) and Karen is roused from a stupour yelling “Who won the election?!” (which, at this point, feels decades too old). Later on, Grace commends Will on being woke to rapturous canned applause. It’s like the show is playing 2010s bingo with no concept of how to organically make any of it fit into an actual episode of television.


And look, no one expected the show not to comment on the last eleven years, but the “Aw shucks!” hammy approach that is inevitable with such an old-school sitcom makes it all particularly grating. Not to mention – as much as it’s hard to ignore the current political climate – the Trump jokes start early here and then just keep on coming. And, Christ, do they fall flat. Within the first five minutes, Melania gets name-dropped twice, Grace calls the accusation that she farted in an elevator “fake news” and the phrase “Lock her up!” is appropriated for a fashion crime. You could make a drinking game out of this shit, so long as you had no concern for your short-term health.

So, let’s talk optics: once again, Will and Grace are back living together after their respective relationships have fallen apart, which is all explained to a clearly soused Karen several times, until Jack breaks the fourth wall, looks straight to camera and asks, “Got it?” This moment is actually key to defining Will & Grace as it now exists: it looks and feels so similar to what’s come before, but now it wants to try on punchlines and make references to things that don’t fit its aesthetic. To put it a very Will & Grace way, it’s like the show is playing dress-up with clothes that don’t suit its age, style or tone at all.

I have to admit though, despite many of the reservations I had when seeing the trailer for this some time ago, the writers seem to have made a concerted effort to make both Will and Jack a little less ALLCAPS, rainbow-spackled gay. Don’t get me wrong, it would be a complete disservice to these characters as they were written for eight years if there weren’t still a lot of “Ha, like gay guys do!” jokes in the mix (mostly from Jack). Still, there does seem to be less emphasis on having these men play out as gay caricatures than as characters who happen to be gay, which is at least one adjustment in the right direction for a TV show in 2017.


In fact, the best thing I can say about the show’s return (with one *notable exception) is how gracefully the cast occupies their roles. A common headline you’ll see about this episode is that – whatever you might make of the humour – the chemistry and performances remain intact, and I largely agree with that. Sean Hayes’s physicality is still pretty amusing, Eric McCormack’s dry intellect pairs nicely with Debra Messing’s bluster and Megan Mullally (God love her) livens up even the deadest of punchlines with her signature verve and live-wire attitude.

But the humour does remain a problem throughout, in that it’s far too broad and pleased with itself to ever find a sensible rhythm. The worst thing about bad jokes is that, if there’s enough of them to start with, you get bogged down in a sour disposition towards the show. This means if Will & Grace loses its goodwill early then it has to work twice as hard to win you back, so even if some decent gags or one-liners make the cut you’ll still be less likely to laugh. Which is tough when, halfway through, the episode just devolves into a piss-poor SNL knock-off (which is saying something), riffing constantly on Trump and the White House with stale jokes that have been played out for about a year now. I found myself tuning out almost entirely once someone made a reference to the fact that he’s the same colour as Cheetos. Zing.

Not to mention, the show’s grasp of packing themes and messages into episodes still seems very much of a piece with sitcoms of decades past. Whereas the last few year has seen a glut of marginally self-aware to entirely meta shows that are built on subverting typical plots and tropes, Will & Grace still seems comfortable with spelling out exactly what’s on everyone’s mind and telegraphing how it will all play out. From the moment Grace echoes Will’s line of decorating the Oval Office going against “everything she believes in”, it’s clear how this will shape up. Will and Grace will inevitably confront each other at the White House over their compromised morals and get into an argument over it. And yeah, that’s basically what happens, culminating in (I shit you not) a pillow fight in the Oval Office. Jesus.


But, y’know, maybe this an unfair issue to have with a show that, after all, is almost twenty years old. How do you stay true to the breezy, “everything works out in the end” sort of vibe that Will & Grace built itself on without recycling old plots and keeping all the resolutions on a fairly simplistic plane? To satisfy fans, the show needed to be this way and it’s hard to get angry at it, at least on that level, for remaining so true to itself. But then, the question remains, if Will & Grace really does represent everything that’s become obsolete about old sitcoms then, honestly, why the fuck bother bringing it back in the first place?


Quotes and Random Thoughts


  • Is it wrong for me to do this? Fuck it, I’m gonna: in order of who’s aged best we start with Eric McCormack (who hasn’t aged a day and seriously must’ve made the same pact with the devil as Paul Rudd), followed by Megan Mullaly (still absolutely gorgeous), Sean Hayes (a little wear and tear, but mostly the same) and Debra Messing (who still looks fabulous but is just up against really stiff competition).


  • The Heads Up! gags weren’t great, but I did chuckle at Will’s exasperated “Don’t get me started” being a clue for Jada Pinkett Smith.


  • By the way, Karen’s question about who won the election is answered by Will and Grace’s monotone “Your guy”, and from that point on she proceeds to rub it in Grace’s face whenever she can. She’s also good friends with Melania. Uuuuuuuuuum… look, I know Karen’s kinda meant to suck and this is just a silly TV show, but does that make anyone else wildly uncomfortable?


  • *Look, I don’t wanna rip into this too much because this show has never really been about subtlety, but good lord is Debra Messing overacting the shit outta her role. Is she tryna win a Tony on TV?!


  • Hey, it’s Kate Micucci. Neat.


  • “I remember that. Right, it was called “Jus–.” “DON’T EVEN!” I admit, this made me grin a little, as did “Jack Be Nimble!”


  • I like that Karen calls Jack “Poodle”. I wish someone would call me “Poodle”.


  • There is one thing I cannot fault about this show: that jazzy piano transition music is incredible, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *