WILL & GRACE
Changed gay representation on TV
There was an era of American sitcoms in the 90s that brought ‘being gay’ more prominently into prime time, light entertainment TV. Friends gave us Carol and Susan and the oft-sexually mistaken Chandler; Frasier provided us with a pair of highly metrosexual brothers who liked opera and sherry; and Ellen saw the lead star come out of the closet in an episode that had to be codenamed The Puppy Episode because it was such a big furore.
Where Ellen messed this opportunity up however was in the post-coming out fifth season, where it’s titular character – played by Ellen DeGeneres – was now a fully-fledged lesbian. Rather than Ellen just getting on with being a funny bookstore owner who happened to fancy girls, each episode became another reason to preach the gay word, hence denormalising it and leading to the sitcom’s cancellation.
Enter Will & Grace, which actually aired its first season in the year Ellen broadcast its last.
In 1998 we met urban professional couple Will Truman and Grace Adler – who weren’t actually a couple. He was her GBF and she his self-professed hag. There was no coming out; this was already what the ‘situation’ of the situation comedy was. And they just got on with it.
What followed was eight seasons of hilarity in which we saw this 30-something duo navigate life, with the help of zany off-shoots Jack McFarland and Karen Walker; and now, in 2017 (thanks to Donald Trump, in a backwards sort of way) they’re back. Gays everywhere are rejoicing.
And seeing as the 223rd episode has (hopefully) already aired by the time you’re reading this, in what promises to be a ninth season that gives a modern take on LGBT+ life, we’re looking back at the moments Will & Grace forever shifted the representation of gay life on telly.
As Will & Grace returns to screens to pick things upafter an 11 year hiatus in avery different world, we look backatthe show’s most iconic
When Will came out. He was already out in 1998, but in season three we were treated to an 80s flashback when
Will broke Grace’s heart after trying to be straight. Instead he realised he just wasn’t. This was familiar to many men of his generation, coming from a time when it was harder to grasp that, for you, the grass was greener.
Diane. She was the one woman that managed to get Will into bed. And so when Diane reared her head in arguably the funniest Will & Grace episode (with Mira Sorvino in the leggy role) we got to re-live the trauma that many a gay man has gone through in his pre-coming out attempts to muster some arousal over lady parts. Will admits he didn’t even take his pants off, and Diane definitely appreciated that he baked cookies, did a load of whites… and gave her the only orgasm she’s ever had.
When Jack came out. “Jack, blind and deaf people know you’re gay.” We always presumed Jack was… just Jack. Gay Jack. But no; his mother, bless, didn’t realise her son liked Action Men for a very specific reason. We got to see him telling her in season two, demonstrating that even the most flamboyant of us still have struggles.
Pastry Chef. Speaking of baking… let’s talk Karen’s pastry chef Edward. Will goes to give him the sack – “and that’s where we ended up!” This gruff Irishman also managed to seduce Karen in the same episode, declaring himself pansexual and reminding us that people just fancy who they fancy.
All the kissing. There was plenty of same-sex snogging on Will & Grace. But they made a real point of it on season two’s Acting Out, where Jack and Will crashed The Today Show to kiss on daytime TV as an act of protest that NBC cut a man-on-man kiss from a sitcom. And as Grace once said: “I’ve kissed Karen more times than I can count, and each time I felt something…”
Will and Vince. This is a weird one, because, until season nine starts, we’re not certain what Will and Vince’s relationship status is. From what’s been teased, they didn’t end up lasting the course. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Will and Vince at least gave us hope that two guys get their happy ever after and don’t end up like Patrick and Kevin did at the end of Looking.
“Portia de Rossi DeGeneres, you’re lesbians?”
Speaking of girls, Will & Grace didn’t underrepresent The L Word. Molly the UPS woman, Vince’s closeted sister Ro, Jack’s son’s birth mother Bonnie, savvy property moguls Deirdre and Monet, and angry lesbian kite sellers Annie and Terry – there were plenty to go around.
Kids. Children were prominent in this otherwise very grownup show. Jack had a longlost one, Karen secretly wanted one (despite disliking her stepchildren), Will and Grace planned to combine their banana and bagel and have one, and then ended up doing it with Vince and Leo respectively. This normalised the 2.4 children fantasy for gay people.
Jack Mc-Fairy-Land. There were several references to Will and Jack’s childhoods, in which they were both bullied. In Will’s case he was “fat, shiny and was only friends with a girl with a small leg”. Jack was overtly homo, however, and bullied for it (nickname above). He helped coach a kid at Karen’s stepson’s school through the pain, and mentored Will’s ‘little gay nephew’ Jordy (who delivered this cracker of a line when Will’s dad died: “It’s all been a bit Valley of the Dolls. Oh wait, do you get that reference?”)
Grace gets hitched. Leading on from this, there was Grace’s wedding to Leo (Harry Connick Jr) in season five. They got married in a sham mass ceremony, which left Will furious that he wasn’t involved. They re-married properly in a church, meaning Will could arrange it and wear a tux and basically make it about him. Gay guys would be lying if they didn’t admit they’d probably react in precisely the same way.
Will’s parents. Will’s aforementioned dad George (Sydney Pollack) was the supportive one, while mum Marilyn (Blythe Danner) wasn’t into the whole gay thing. Yet appearances proved deceiving when George hid Will’s sexuality from his colleagues and told him he thinks it’d be ‘easier if he wasn’t gay’. Meanwhile, Marilyn had only her gay child to thank for introducing her to Mamma Mia! These two explored the different reactions to having gay kids.
When Will and Grace fell out. Which time? They fell out in college, they fell out over Leo and they fell out for 20 years in the season finale. This wasn’t a popular way to end the show, and thankfully that’s being rectified in the reboot, but all the tiffs came down to tension surrounding Will’s sexuality in some aspect. And despite being a comedy, Will & Grace always drew upon these very real, very dramatic instances.
Beverley Leslie. Frosted Mini-Wheat. Angry inch. World’s oldest girl. Karen’s ‘dearest friend’ Beverley Leslie provided us with a character even camper than Jack, who was originally written for Dame Joan Collins. Thank the gay gods Leslie Jordan ended up taking the role so that Karen could out him to a cruiseliner full of Republicans.
Back to funny stuff. Remember when Jack and Will took it upon themselves to destraighten Karen’s closeted cousin Barry (Dan Futterman)? The whole process was ridiculously self-mocking and yet it clandestinely assured gays everywhere that you could be the kind of homo you wanted.
Cher… ...enough said, really.
“When the gays come, property values shoot up.” In season seven,
Will and Jack accidentally bought a house in a notso-up-and-coming gay hotspot. And yet the straight residents begged them to stay to add flare to their town. This beautifully trivialised any reason anyone has of excluding gay people, as the ‘townspeople’ coaxed them to stay by throwing banana bread through their window and getting the high school band to serenade them with We Are Family.
Hags. Will & Grace did something for so-called faghags that shows like Gimme Gimme Gimme kind of trivialised. It made them quite glamorous beings despite their codependance on their GBF. Grace of course hated when characters like the aforementioned Diane and classic guest character
Val (Molly Shannon) got between her and Will. Karen lost the plot when Jack auditioned women to be her replacement. And remember the uber-sexy Nadine (Vince’s friend, played by Kristin Davis) who was convinced Vince would one day come to his senses and make love to her in a barn?
Dirty talk. Will & Grace was overtly sexual and often downright outrageous. Remember when Jack’s would-be boyfriend Stuart (Dave Foley) told Will he wanted Jack to be ‘the Lord of my ring’. And when AmberLouise (Britney Spears) revealed, “I’m into leather play, butch black girls, skunking, pulling the blinds and poodle balling.” Filthy!
Will showed us that gays are allowed to feel irrationally jealous of non-sexual threats. Despite Grace’s clinginess to her
GBF, Will would immediately dislike any man Grace hooked up. He pissed all over it when Danny proposed to her, loathed Nathan from upstairs, and despised Leo for ruining their plan to have a baby. And this was OK. He just wanted to pass the torch to the best man for the job, plain and simple.
Will and Jack. The relationship Will had with Jack put a pair of gay men onto primetime TV and mirrored them alongside Karen and Grace’s gal pal friendship. Just because they both enjoyed Abercrombie catalogues for reasons other than the low-hipped briefs, it didn’t mean Will and
Jack were always shagging. In fact, they were terrified that they would, by default, end up together. And after a couple of near-misses, they ended up proving that they were friends, and that sexuality wasn’t a factor.