Changed gay rep­re­sen­ta­tion on TV

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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

LGBT+ mo­ments.

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.

Madonna, Brit­ney,

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!

Grace’s men.

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.

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