Will & Grace 2.0: NBC's reboot of sitcom is aggressively and unapologetically anti-Trump
It’s the same apartment. Their outfits are similar, and the cast looks the same too, especially the men. It’s all a bit uncanny, and eerie.
Gathered around Will’s sofa in that Upper West Side apartment that seemed so “grown up luxe” back in 2000, are our titular leads Will and Grace, and their two over-the-top friends that round up the famous quartet — Karen and Jack. Even the situation is eerily similar: they’re all playing a game of charades Heads Up! Of course, Will and Grace are a team, and as always, they’re in sync with each other in the way only best friends of so many years can be. There’s a distinct late ’90s and early ’00s vibe there (except for the digital charades). It’s all very Will & Grace.
But that’s where the similarities end; Will & Grace’s reboot, 11 years after the show ended, introduces a fifth main character on the show — Donald Trump. One of Will’s clues to Grace while playing Heads Up! is “Rich hostage!” to which Grace immediately guesses, “Melania!” It’s the wrong answer for this turn, but you get the gist. The Trumps (Donald, Melania, et al) feature so prominently in the opening episode (and I’m afraid it seems like this is going to be an ongoing theme for the rest of the season) and the jokes about them come at us so fast that you’d be forgiven for believing the show was an extended game of Cards Against Humanity with the post-Trump pack. Don’t get me wrong, some of the Trump jokes are new and funny, and the knowing self-awareness with which the cast utters some of the very obvious “dad jokes” is chuckle-worthy. In all, Will & Grace 2.0 has set the stage for a fun and wacky season of watching middle-aged New Yorkers do their thing while poking fun at everything Trump. It’s a sad world we live in, and the least we can do is laugh at the utterly incompetent!
For those of you who didn’t watch the original run of Will & Grace, here are a few things to remember: Will (a lawyer) and Grace (an architect) are upper middle class New Yorkers who’ve been best friends since college. Together with Karen (Grace’s kind-of nuts assistant, who is married to the super-wealthy and never-seen-or-shown Stan) and Jack (a struggling actor and a rather superficial human being), they form an unlikely group of friends who get up to all sorts of shenanigans. Oh, and Will and Jack are gay. Oh oh, and the original series ended with a rift between Will and Grace, a flash forward to them married to their respective partners and being parents to kids (who meet and end up falling in love with each other and marrying). That ending was oddly sappy. Of course, that ending also meant Will and Grace having kids in the reboot, and well, who wants that, right? And so they address this issue — in the very opening scene of the first episode when they’re all playing Heads Up! (tbh, Karen is off daydreaming about whatever it is that wealthy middle-aged Republican women dream of, and Jack is just there...watching Will and Grace get animated). Turns out, the kids...well, it was all just a drug and alcohol fuelled dream of Karen’s!
Here’s how it pans out: Jack shakes a bottle of pills in front of Karen and she snaps back to present-day reality, asking what was going on and who won the election. Cue Trump joke, as the other three forlornly answer her, “Your guy.” To which Karen responds that she had the craziest dream, in which Will was living with a “swarthy man in uniform and Grace was married to a Jew doctor.” Will informs her that those things did really happen, but that both Grace and him are single now. Karen then asks about their (aforementioned) kids. Will’s incredulous response to that: “That never happened!” To which Karen pretty much sums up every audience member’s response, and replies, “What a relief! Nobody wants to see you two raise kids.” Jack agrees, saying, “what would be funny about that?” We’re quickly informed that Will and Grace are living staying together again, temporarily, until the dust settles on her divorce. Karen then asks the all-important questions: what about her husband Stan, is he still alive? More importantly, is she still rich? To which Will responds, “You’re rich, Stan’s alive.” Pointing to himself and Grace, he reiterates, “Both single, no kids.” Jack then breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience, “Got it?” And just like, Will & Grace has caught up to 2017!
For a show that is said to have done more to educate the American public about same-sex relationships/marriages than anything anybody else has done, Will & Grace was surprisingly (and refreshingly) non-preachy. There were no “special episodes” or a bunch of disguised-as-jokes lessons thrown at the audience. Will and Jack were gay, and they had relationships with other men, and just went about living their lives. Like normal, if slightly eccentric, people. Normalising homosexuality may not have been what NBC set out to do when the show first aired in 1998, but that’s what it did do.
Sure there were stereotypes, with plenty of what Jack said and did:
But frankly, watching Will be the more laidback and non-diva-like gay man made it seem like that was normal homosexual behaviour. Jack’s over-the-topness, in fact, just made it seem like he was the token comic relief. In 2017 (when technically, homosexuality and the LGBTQA community is more “normally” and “regularly” portrayed in the media, than it has ever been) in the post-Trump era, the biggest joke Will & Grace 2.0 makes is just being the show it is and almost flaunting it in the face of conservatives.
It’s not as if Will or Jack or Grace say anything pointed towards anybody in the Trump administration; in fact, the opening episode deals primarily with Will and Grace both grappling with their own hypocrisy: both are anti-Trump, but Grace can’t let go of an opportunity to redecorate the Oval Office (a job she’s offered thanks to Karen being friends with Melania!) while Will has a huge crush on a Senator in the Trump administration whose policies he’s against but whose physical attractiveness is too hard for him to ignore.
The situations our foursome find themselves in are sort of hilarious, although unlike the original series, they’re not almost all set in either Will’s apartment or Grace’s office. No, just as we have a new main character, we also have a new setting — the White House! There’s Jack kissing a security officer in the White House, Will and Grace trying to hide their shameful deeds with the “other side” from each other, or them finding out each other’s truth and ultimately having a pillow fight in the Oval Office!
The Trump jokes are, of course, non stop. There’s Grace lifting the lid of a box on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, only to find a Russian-to-English dictionary and a fidget spinner in it!
Or her asking Karen to hold up a colour fabric swatch so that she can see how it looks in the background against the President’s colouring (in an expected-yet-hilarious move, she casually opens a bag of Cheetos and holds one up against the blue fabric!).
There’s something purposely irreverent about treating the White House and the Oval Office in such a casual manner. Will & Grace 2.0 was the direct result of an anti-Republican, anti-Trump, anti-conservative feeling that swept through sensible liberals in 2016, and this episode’s derision of the political circus that is the Trump administration, was a clearly articulated joke for all of us to see and hear and take in. Kathryn VanArendonk, in her review for Slate, writes, “The idea of touting a gay man as an “everyday person!” is no longer radical — or, at least, it wasn’t in September of 2016. But the idea of using the Oval Office of the White House as an everyday space, its windows used as splatter screens for Grace’s spit takes, its pillows offering themselves up for silly feathery fights? That feels new. Dozens of TV shows have used the Oval Office as a backdrop. The West Wing is the most iconic, but it’s joined by legions of others — 24, Scandal, Designated Survivor, House of Cards, Veep, 1600 Penn, Commander in Chief, Madam Secretary, I could continue. In every one of those series, though, there’s a unifying foundational assumption about the Oval. It is a serious place. It’s a special place, one that invites awe and provokes reflection. We are supposed to want to be our best selves in that room...But the Will & Grace revival treats the Oval Office differently...Feathers fly, and the camera cuts to an external shot of them, glimpsed through the office window. Ha-ha!, that shot says. They’re having this fight inside the Oval Office! Remember a time when a scene like this would’ve felt like they were tarnishing the gravity of the presidency? When it would’ve felt like *they* were the fools in the room?! LOL.” It’s true, one of the biggest and best jokes of the Will & Grace reboot is its setting. If the inhabitants of the White House (another joke in the episode: how the inhabitants prefer to call themselves “owners”, not “occupants”) don’t show the appropriate respect for the place and its history, well then, the joke’s on them I guess?
In case you missed it, Will & Grace 2.0 is anti-Trump. If the Trump-jokes-once-every-30-seconds haven’t proven it to you, let me spell it out — the Will & Grace reboot/revival is completely, totally, aggressively, and unapologetically anti-Trump! Despite being physically absent and never being explicitly named, Donald Trump is a looming presence on the show. In the midst of the all the 2017-ness (eg. Grace calling Will “woke”) the biggest and most relevant thing about 2017 on the show is Trump. For a President who thrives on publicity, who acts like a petty teenager, who seems to believe that he’s still on a reality TV show and that everything in real life is about “ratings”, and who loves to be in the news at all times (and, knowing what we know, for all the wrong reasons), his presence on a show like Will & Grace (despite the context) might just be flattering for him. It seems like the sort of thing he’d tweet about or show off to his cronies. For that reason, and also because Will & Grace doesn’t need to have a looming Trump shadow over it at all times to be funny, it’ll be good to do away with the overabundance of Trump jokes for the rest of the season. Either way, for now, the show seems to have the last laugh: despite turning down the redecorating job, Grace leaves a little souvenir in the Oval Office:
I know it can’t happen, but can we start episode 2 of Will & Grace 2.0 with Trump finding that cap please?