It’s not necessary to watch or rewatch all of Will & Grace before the sitcom returns to NBC on Thursday. There’s a little relationship history that comes up in the first three episodes that is helpful to remember, but let’s be real: You’re not tuning into this show for the plot. You show up so you can hear Megan Mullally make catty comments in a voice high-pitched enough to shatter the martini glass from which she’s perpetually sipping.
That said, some viewers may have missed the series the first time around and want to get a feel for its sensibility, while others may feel a need to “Just Jack” their way down memory lane before welcoming Will & Grace into their 2017 lives. Now that the old episodes are streaming on Hulu, on demand, and the NBC app, it’s possible to do exactly that, which is why we at Vulture have provided this list of the 15 best and/or most significant Will & Grace episodes to watch as the return of the show approaches. Enjoy, poodles.
“Between a Rock and Harlin’s Place” (Season one, episode four)
Some people would say you should watch the pilot to get a sense of the backstory behind the Will and Grace relationship. But honestly, all you need to know is they’re single now and involved in a co-dependent friendship that will be explored for a full eight, soon-to-be nine seasons. That co-dependency is on full, dysfunctional display in this episode, in which Will sabotages Grace’s attempt to decorate his boss’s apartment. This is also the episode that marks the first performance of Jack McFarland’s cabaret show, “Just Jack” [insert jazz hands here].
“The Unsinkable Mommy Adler” (Season one, episode 13)
Debbie Reynolds makes the first of several recurring appearances as Grace’s over-the-top, unfiltered mother, and she is a delight. In light of her death last year, it’s now both sweet and poignant to watch her enter a room crooning her signature tune “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain.
“Grace, Replaced” (Season one, episode 18)
Grace is working too much and Will feels neglected, at which point he meets a woman named Val (Molly Shannon) who also totally gets him and completes his sentences. Of course, Grace is having none of that.
“Das Boob” (Season two, episode three)
Remember when water bras were a thing in the late ’90s? This episode — in which Grace pads her cleavage to impress a hot artist from high school and winds up springing a leak — will remind you. It also will remind you of the I Love Lucy–esque physical-comedy skills that come so instinctively to Debra Messing and Eric McCormack. Added bonus: the hot artist from high school is played by Scott Patterson, a.k.a. Luke from Gilmore Girls.
“Homo for the Holidays” (Season two, episode seven)
Holiday episodes are part of the grand Will & Grace tradition. This one, in which Jack comes out to his mother (Veronica Cartwright) over Thanksgiving dinner, is a particular standout. The episode handles Jack’s outing with sensitivity that was unusual to see on mainstream comedies at the time. It also handles it with silly jokes about gay stereotypes. (“Honey, I think you’re missing the silver lining here,” Karen tells Jack’s mom. “When you’re old and in diapers, a gay son will know how to keep you away from chiffon and backlighting.”) It’s quintessential Will & Grace: progressive and regressive all at once.
“Acting Out,” (Season two, episode 14)
Jack, Will, and Grace excitedly watch an NBC sitcom called Along Came You, waiting to see the first gay male kiss on television. But the camera pans away at the last minute, sending Jack on a crusade against the network and — in a riff on something that actually happened — to the Today show audience, where Will plants one on Jack right in front of Al Roker and winds up making a little bit of actual TV history. This is Will & Grace at its most meta and vaguely Seinfeldian.
“Gypsies, Tramps, and Weed” (Season three, episode seven)
This is the episode where Grace hires a waiter as her assistant (Mike Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or, if you prefer, Robert Romanus) and he winds up selling pot out of her office. It’s also the episode where Will sees a psychic played by Camryn Manheim and becomes convinced he’s supposed to marry Jack. (In one fantasy moment, he imagines Jack in a wedding dress, which is one of the many examples of this show feminizing gay men for the sake of a laugh.) But really, above all else, this is the episode where Sean Hayes does a Cher impression to Cher’s face. If you could turn back time or turn it forward, that moment will still always be funny.
“Lows in the Mid-80s” (Season three, episodes eight and nine)
A two-parter flashback to Will & Grace: The College Years, complete with dreadful ’80s hair cuts, Duran Duran references, and the story of how Will and Grace dated, almost had sex (but didn’t), almost got married (but didn’t), and stopped being friends for a while before they became besties for life. Also, in keeping with the requirement that every W&G half-hour contain at least one celebrity cameo, Martina Navratilova is in this one, along with Debbie Reynolds, making another appearance as Grace’s mom.
“Bed, Bath and Beyond” (Season four, episode seven)
After she proposes marriage to Nathan (Woody Harrelson) and gets dumped, Grace retires to her bed and the rest of the gang tries to cheer her up. Highlight of this episode: Grace’s sad, modified Jewish prayer: “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu I’m gonna die alone.”
“A Chorus Lie” (Season four, episode fifteen)
The wonderfully bitchy Beverly Leslie (Leslie Jordan) shows up in this one to give Karen a hard time for being the wife of a jailbird. But the real headline here is that this is the Matt Damon episode, which means you get to see Jason Bourne try out for the Gay Men’s Chorus while singing “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”
“Hocus Focus” (Season four, episode 24)
The idea to have a baby together first occurs to Will and Grace in this episode. But mostly, this is just a solid episode of the series that hits on a lot of its trademark elements: Will and Grace arguing over something trivial, Jack staging yet another one of his ill-advised performances, Karen making jokes about alcohol, and a high-profile actor doing a drive-by guest star. This time, that’s Glenn Close, playing the role of an Annie Leibovitz–esque photographer, only one week after Michael Douglas guest-starred in an episode called “Fagel Attraction.” There’s even a rabbit in this “Hocus Focus,” though, unfortunately, it doesn’t share any scenes with Close.
“The Kid Stays Out of the Picture” (Season five, episode 3)
Will & Grace is a breezy sitcom, but every once in a while, it gets serious. One of the more dramatic moments in the show’s history is the explosive argument that Will and Grace get into at the end of this episode, when Grace asks to put their plans to have a baby on hold after she meets a new man, future husband Leo (Harry Connick Jr.).
“Dolls and Dolls” (Season five, episode 21)
Is this the best episode of Will & Grace? Not really. But is it weirdly fascinating to watch Madonna, in her only appearance ever on a TV sitcom, play Karen’s roommate and start grinding on Vernon from You’re the Worst (Todd Robert Anderson) when she and Karen go clubbing? It is, especially now that we know Madonna had no idea what her fellow actors’ real names were.
“Alive and Schticking” (Season eight, episode one)
Well before 30 Rock’s first live episode, Will & Grace did an episode in real time, coincidentally featuring Alec Baldwin. This one’s notable because it shows how precisely the comedy machine was running at this point, even without a safety net. There’s also one moment when Hayes makes Messing break character, briefly, to do some actual giggling.
“The Finale” (Season eight, episode 23/24)
The last episode of Will & Grace is polarizing to say the least, as it implies that the two friends in the show’s title ultimately drift apart, only reconciling 20 years in the future when their kids are fully grown. It’s worth revisiting, however, if only to understand just how recklessly the Will & Grace reboot tosses aside just about everything that happens in this episode.