Now this is the Will & Grace revival I’ve been waiting to see! Last week’s premiere was a fun 30 minutes, but it was cheesed up by the Cheetos dust of so many Donald Trump jokes. I don’t mind a good Trump-bashing (it’s all we do at homosexual brunch these days — well, that and talk about the Sex and the City 3 drama), but I can get my political humor from plenty of places. I have late-night TV and a bunch of liberal Facebook friends so I’m covered on the #NeverTrump front.
The first episode must have been something of a release valve for the writers to get all of that political commentary out of their systems. “Who’s Your Daddy” had everything I was hoping for when I heard the news they were reviving the show. Not only were there ridiculous slapstick set pieces, but Will and Jack, two of television’s most revolutionary gay characters, finally got to talk about some of the unseen issues going on in the gay community today, namely how to grow old gracefully in a sexualized culture that is obsessed with youth. As Will says, Twinkies never spoil, but after a while they do turn into stale Ho-Hos that no one wants.
The episode starts at the Cockpit — a gay bar with a red neon rooster very similar to the iconic one that hangs outside of the Cock on Second Avenue — with Will and Jack trying to pick up guys in person at a bar, a notion that is quaint and old-fashioned in these Grindr-centric times. Will nets a 23-year-old named Blake (Tony winner Ben Platt) and Jack strikes out because a young kid calls him a “daddy.” The outing lands Will a date with Blake and Jack a complex about his fading good looks. Maybe he should worry less about his figure and the dated Banana Republic sweater-vests he refuses to give up like an old European man in Hollister.
When they relate this story to Grace the next morning, she says, “I loved the Cockpit. Why did we stop going?” I was waiting for them to say that they got old and would much rather spend a night on the couch watching the most recent season of Transparent, but instead we learn it’s because Jack kept referring to her as his drag-queen friend Judy Ism. It’s a much funnier explanation, though maybe not as realistic. But between that and his quip about Grace’s peek-a-boo sleeves, the episode already had two iconic lines before the opening credits even ran.
Will’s date, of course, is a disaster, with his young buck more willing to hook up than hear about gay history. Will, on the other hand, is ready to teach the children, as they say, and sits him down for a long class about the “fagasaurus” and the difference between Stonewall and Stonehenge. The funny thing is that his speech is peppered with references that this baby gay couldn’t possibly understand, including Dixie Carter’s famous “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” monologue from Designing Women. (If you are unfamiliar, drop everything you’re doing and watch it now.)
What was so great about this, and Will and Jack’s conversation the next day, is that they talk about pop culture and gay life the same way that my friends and I do. I’m (ahem) a handful of years younger than these two. They say Madonna has the face of Baby Jane and the body of Iggy Pop; I call her Grandma Ciccone and talk about how she’s going in for a hand transplant any day now. It’s the same vibe. (And poor Blake, those Baby Jane and Iggy Pop references went right over his head.) We so rarely see these types of middle-aged characters on TV and we certainly don’t have any gay people of a certain age on the tube.
During its initial run, Will & Grace brought gay culture to the masses and packaged our sense of humor in a way that made it palatable to a wider audience. I’m glad that it’s still doing that and continuing to grow with us as a culture, even as its approach to sitcom storytelling is as frozen as Karen’s forehead after her 19th round of Botox. But this episode is also something of a victory lap, reminding the kids at home not only what the previous generation of gay men accomplished in the way of civil rights, but also how this show helped to accomplish those victories.
It certainly helps that “Who’s Your Daddy” has genius bits, like Jack showing up at the Cockpit with magnets stuck to his neck like a gay Frankenstein. The Grace and Karen bit — in which they almost drown in Karen’s new high-tech shower after she asked for a raise — is definitely the weakest of a very strong night, with a setup more belabored than 13 women giving birth to 15 babies. But still, it’s got a few good giggles with them swimming around in a million-dollar bathroom. (For those of you wondering why Karen has a new Irish maid instead of her longtime housekeeper Rosario, it’s because actress Shelley Morrison retired.)
The Jack bits of “Who’s Your Daddy” are much more inventive, with his neck magnets sticking to all sorts of things and him not being able to even sit down because his Spanx are so tight. By the time he put the magnets in his pockets and his knees were stuck together, I was practically on the floor. But on what Earth are Jack and Will not total hotties? No matter what their ages, I’m sure that plenty of Speedos get to popping when either of them walks down the beach in Fire Island.
The episode leaves us with Will and Jack doing a wonderful dance to Madonna’s “Borderline” that you know some industrious little queen has already turned into 13 GIFs that us oldies can use when we want to celebrate that one night of the year when we get all of our creaky friends to go out to the club together. Those nights are just like this perfect episode of Will & Grace — a good, old-fashioned time in a brave new gay world.