Jun 20, 2010

[TV] Will & Grace: Season 1

Will & Grace: Season 1LGBT characters in network television remain to be somewhat few in number when you think about it, but our current progress now is definitely worlds away than how things were over ten years ago.As you trace back the development of gay roles on TV, you'll of course come across this landmark show given its amazing impact on network television and Hollywood at large.

Let's face it - in the beginning the gay character was trapped in very dated stereotypes and could perform no other role than comic relief for the most part. Come to think of it, a better example would probably be how gay characters are still depicted in local television and movies (Zing!) if you get what I mean. The point is that in many years past, the only chance for a gay character to exist in network television would be as a cheap plot device or shallow and insulting comic relief roles. It certainly helped characterize gay men as flighty and shallow and lesbians as overly masculine with a penchant for pants.

But the floodgates opened with this one show that pretty much everyone was betting against at the time. As much as the odds seemed against the production plus initial critical assertions predicted its quick demise, the show eventually proved them all wrong. Even better, this started a rather long-lived sitcom that survived for a full 8 seasons.

Eric McCormack, Debra Messing at the rehearsal...Image via Wikipedia
Will & Grace is the first mainstream LGBT sitcom with a gay character as one of its principals. This of course was Will Truman (Eric McCormack), a gay lawyer living in New York. The series begins with his best friend Grace Adler (Debra Messing)  needing a place to stay after nearly marrying a bad boyfriend. Thus begins their unusual life together as friends and all the hilarities that comes with it. The natural differences between the two given how straightforward Will is versus how emotional Grace tends to be.

Other characters of interest are their two friends Jack and Karen. Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) is Will's openly gay friend who tends to represent a lot of the stereotypes of male homosexuals. He's flighty, campy and boisterously loud but serves as great comic relief for the show and the occasional moment of striking insight. Then of course there's Karen Walker (Megan Mullally), a rich socialite who somehow "works" as Grace's assistant even though she hardly does anything. She's a heavy pill-popper and tends to drink constantly. And yet despite her harsh, condescending exterior, she really does consider Grace to be a friend and eventually becomes very close to Jack as well.

The show remains to be comedy gold given all the quick zingers that all four primary cast members tend to hurl at one another - the kind of on-the-fly comedy that only works when the ensemble really gets comfortable with each other. The show really does make you believe that these people are friends even though they tend to sometimes act like caricatures.

I especially liked the fact that Will represented a very different version of the gay male role as compared to all those that come before. He was not comic relief or shallow - he was in fact a successful professional who's made a place for himself in the world. Sure, Jack tends to make up for that and tends to depict all the usual gay Hollywood tropes, but at the same time it doesn't seem insulting or demeaning. As much as their was initial backlash against how they characterized Will, I personally thought it was a refreshing change and it helped pave the way for more diverse gay characters in television and movies.

And of course everyone just loved the duo of Jack and Karen or even the interactions between Karen and Grace. And the list goes on and on - each character had a different relationship with the other and this came across beautifully in the various episodes.

The first season did a great job of establishing the whole setting, helping us veiwers getting to know their little part of the city. Plus it left us with a lot of plot hooks to explore in later seasons like Will's last big long term relationship with Michael, Karen's rich husband Stan, Jack getting married to Karen's maid Rosario (Shelley Morrison) and so on and so forth.

Will & Grace remains to be one of the best comedies I've ever seen, and I'm not just saying that because of the LGBT focus. Gay or straight alike, you're bound to find something to enjoy about this show. And thus it gets 5 "Just Jack" moments out of a possible 5.
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