Welcome to the Will & Grace of 2017, where there is a Caitlyn Jenner joke in the first 30 seconds and a Grindr-is-gross joke in the first minute. Nothing makes Jack look like a middle-aged homosexual more than his app-based sex-negativity and online slut-shaming. Luckily, he makes up for it by doing his best Kylie Jenner duck-lips face for a new profile picture before the teaser is even over. And, you know, spending the weekend getting jiggy with a gay Secret Service officer.
But other than that, nothing has really changed with this new Will & Grace. In fact, the first several minutes spend more time erasing the disastrous history of the series finale from 2006 than they do reintroducing the characters or telling us what has been up in the meantime. They soothe a disoriented Karen just like they soothe the audience, by letting us know that everything is the same.
Some of those jokes Karen makes after she wakes up from her dream won’t even make sense unless people remember that final episode from 11 years ago. In it, we learned that Will and Grace have a huge fight and spend decades not talking to each other until their kids meet and fall in love in college and bring them back together again. Since we’re squarely in those decades where they shouldn’t have been talking, that fact poses quite a bit of a problem to the show’s very existence. “11 Years Later” easily elides over it all using the Bobby Ewing strategy, where a character wakes up and reveals that everything that happened previously was just a dream.
There we have it: Will and Grace are once again living together, single and childless. Jack still lives across the hall. Karen is still rich, inappropriate, married to Stan, and willing to grab a boob just to get a laugh. It’s shocking how little has changed or been updated for this new season. The apartment looks like it was preserved in amber. The only notable addition is a photograph of a headless male torso perched over Will’s dining-room table. The funny thing is, it looks like an excerpt from the A&F Quarterly from 2006. But I guess gays these days just follow Nico Tortorella on Instagram and call it a day.
While we’re talking about the opening, I would be remiss if I did not mention Jack’s dated sweater-vest and the unexplainable scarf that Grace is wearing around her neck. Is it to cover a vampire bite? Did she get a chemical peel that hadn’t fully healed yet? Is this an homage to all of the awful scarves that she had to wear on Smash?
We’ll never have an answer for that, but we do know what the writers of this show have had on their minds for the past 11 years: Donald Trump. Yes, there are more Trump jokes on this show than at a Bernie Sanders family reunion. From stem to stern, this episode is like one long exhale for the pent-up liberals who have been glued to outrage Twitter and mainlining Rachel Maddow since the election. Or even before it, judging by the Trump-centric election episode of Will & Grace launched last year.
The plot of “11 Years Later” is that Karen, a close friend of Melania’s, gets Grace a job decorating the Oval Office. Meanwhile, Will books a trip to D.C. with Jack to visit Steve Sandoval, a hunky gay congressman who wants to roll back environmental protections. (Please. Find me one district that’s liberal enough to elect a gay representative, but also conservative enough to not believe in climate science.) Both of these stories leave us plenty of political opportunity to pluck the lowest-hanging fruit. And judging by both of their tailoring, I guess Jack is the more hung of the hanging fruits.
The jokes that land best are the ones that use Trump as a lens to make fun of our fearless foursome, like when Karen tells Grace that Melania asked if Grace was pretty and she replied, “She’s no threat.” Or when Karen was in the Oval Office and asked the waiter to fill up her martini glass. “Don’t give me the Laura Bush pour. I want the full Pat Nixon.” The cheapest shots are things like Trump having a Russian-to-English dictionary on his desk or having the complexion of Cheetos — two jokes that are so stale that, if they were crackers, not even a starving pigeon would eat them off the street.
The best scenes during the gang’s Acela trip to the nation’s capital are between Jack and Lenny, his hunky Secret Service lover. Even today, it’s a treat to see someone with a voice, build, and profession that no one would assume belongs to a gay man and then find him willing to kiss Jack on the lips in public. Welcome to 2017, people, where we can have dudes kiss each other on the lips on a network show and not one station threatens to air reruns of Dateline NBC instead.
But Lenny is mostly the straight man (pun intended) to Jack being outlandish and telling him about all of his failed businesses — including an energy drink called Jacked Up, a fitness regime called Jack Be Nimble, and a pumpkin-carving business named Scary Hornballs. The best joke is saved for the end, when Karen catches Jack and his paramour on a love seat in the hallway. She asks Jack, “Did you get serviced?” and Jack replies, “Shhh, it’s a secret.” That is the kind of cheesy old sitcom joke you can see coming from a mile away and, even still, it will make you LOL IRLz [laugh until you’re crying emoji].
But the episode isn’t long enough to contain everything. Sadly, we get but a short introduction to Tony, Grace’s rather handsome new assistant who swears he isn’t being harassed by Karen and must be lying like Don Jr. under oath. (Oh, man, it’s contagious.) It’s also unfortunate that the episode drops Will’s love affair with the gay congressman as powerful as Anderson Cooper, but who can’t fill out a tight black T-shirt quite as well. Maybe he’ll be back in the future? I think he would be a good foil for this foursome.
Also, sadly, we skip away so that the political can become personal: Will and Grace, newly moved-in together after Grace’s divorce, wonder if they can handle all the drama of living together again. They briefly decide that they can’t, following a somewhat lame pillow fight in the Oval Office, only for them to decide a scene later that they always bring out the best in each other.
“It will be different this time,” Will says to Grace about living together. “All the other times we thought it would be different, but it wasn’t. This time it’s going to be exactly the same.” The same could be said about these new episodes. Although it’s like going back in a time machine, it’s a past I certainly won’t mind visiting for the next few months — or at least until Trump gets impeached.