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Will & Grace: a landmark in comedy

With eight consistently comical seasons from 1998 to 2005, Will & Grace exists as one of the most successful sitcoms to date, winning an Emmy for ‘best comedy’ in 2000 over landmark series such as Friends, Frasier, and Sex and the City – an achievement all the more remarkable given its position as one of the first shows to prominently feature gay men. Sure, its central premise was the platonic relationship between a man and a woman, but that was precisely the reason why the show was crucial in helping close the socio-sexual apartheid.

Its regular cast was a small one. Will, a handsome downtown urbanite who’s unlucky in love, and Grace, a down-to-earth interior designer, are rarely separated. Through eight seasons their friendship is tested as the show takes us through bad boyfriends, moving out (and moving back in again), familial mourning and attempted surrogacy. Indeed, theirs is a friendship that transcends the stereotype of one woman and her ‘gay best friend,’ despite the producer’s best attempts to present them like a married couple.

Never far away are Jack, Will’s flamboyantly camp struggling actor of a friend, and his sidekick Karen, a wealthy socialite with a penchant for vodka and designer drugs. It’s the slapstick interplay between these two characters that generates much of the show’s heart, almost resulting in their own spin-off show. Megan Mullally shines in her respective role, turning what normally would have been mere comic relief into one of comedy’s most revered characters.

Such a tight-knit cast allowed the show to feature some of the greatest celebrity guest-stars of all time. Ironically, a still-closeted Neil Patrick Harris played the founder of ex-gay group ‘Welcome Home.’ Then there were the brilliant cameo appearances, where legends such as Cher, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Kevin Bacon simply played themselves – and, of course, it worked, because the gay community has always been the most effective foil for popular culture.

It was far from a perfect show – Jack was often relegated to the ringleader in a queer circus while Will spent the majority of his time without a stable partner – but we have Will & Grace to thank for LGBT television’s development from the noughties onwards. The L Word, for example, originally aired from 2004 to 2009, enjoyed six critically acclaimed seasons depicting lesbian, bisexual and transgender life with honesty and humility, while Channel 4’s Queer As Folk received a stateside adaptation between 2000 and 2005.

In other words, what it occasionally lacked in political power it made up for by simply existing. As one TV critic Andrew Holleran once argued: ‘It was our gay sitcom, fearless and tacky and lewd.’

This article was originally featured in Issue 289 of Venue, Concrete’s culture pullout. Find it online here. 

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