Lionsgate // 1999 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // May 13th, 2004
"Will, what is the point of having a gay best friend if you won't dress me?" -- Grace
Will & Grace has two distinct advantages: perfect casting, and snappy writing. As a sitcom, it's a huge success. As a gay sitcom, the jury is still out. The consensus is divided: some believe that W&G is not doing enough to bring gay issues to the forefront and depict the reality of a gay lifestyle. Others believe it projects the wrong picture entirely -- that Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen are living in a fantasy land where there are lots of gay guys, everyone is Out, and all parents and employers are perfectly accepting of their children and employees being gay. Is W&G one of these things, or is it something else entirely? Is it possible that it is just a sitcom?
Will and Gracie sitting in a tree...K-I-S-S-I-N...no, wait, sorry. Wrong show. Will is handsome, gay, and has his own law practice. Grace is his lovely best friend and soulmate; she's straight and has her own interior design business. They are like two peas in a pod. In fact, up until the final episode in Season One, they were roommates, but decided they needed more independence from each other, so Grace moved out...into the apartment across the hall.
Season Two opens on Will helping Grace move into her place. It's smaller, the fireplace doesn't work, it smells like cat pee, and she never has any palatable food in the fridge. She doesn't even have a dining table. It's a perfect set up for frequent breakfasts, chats, TV watching marathons, and whatever else over at Will's place.
If the show weren't called Will & Grace it would be named after their two free-to-be-me friends, Jack and Karen (it would be called Karen & Jack, if Karen had any say about it). Where Will is Out, but not Outrageous, Jack is here, he's queer, and he wants everybody to know about it, especially every hot body. "There are no straight men," he explains. "Only men who haven't met Jack."
Karen, who set herself up for life when she married extremely rich Stan, spends her time avoiding sex with her husband, drinking, and pretending to work as Grace's assistant, a job she took to keep herself grounded when she isn't spending large sums of money on shoes, clothes, and other necessities. She accepts no pay, in return for the understanding that she will perform no actual work. Jack is a wandering soul -- sweet, adorable, and (when it works for him) kind to his friends. When he creates a list of gift suggestions for his friends, for example, he always remembers to highlight his favorites in bold, for their convenience. In fact, Jack is so helpful he married Karen's maid, Rosario, to help keep her in the country. In the beginning of Season Two, he even agrees to move in with Rosario to keep the INS at bay. It gives him a place to stay, and keeps Karen close to her Poodle (her name for Jack). Everyone wins, and we get to see more of Rosario, who delivers her lines with deadpan precision. "Why don't I just squeeze you like a sponge?" she suggests to Karen when instructed to prepare some drinks for guests. "There's enough alcohol in you to fill a hot tub."
Will & Grace rarely disappoints. The shows in Season Two are consistently entertaining, and the writing stays true to what originally made this series great: the relationships between the four main characters. W&G has an intimate feeling to it -- we know the characters date, see friends, and get out and about, but we mostly see them when they are in their own homes or workplaces. It creates a sort of cozy familiarity we associate with the show.
Season Two definitely keeps things light on the gay front. There is plenty of gay-themed humor, but little to feel uncomfortable about. Once or twice, the show brushes up against the sort of controversy gays experience in everyday life, such as when Will's father comes into town to receive an honorary award and Will realizes that he has concealed from his co-workers that he has a gay son, or when Jack is outraged that his favorite TV gay couple don't end up kissing on-screen as promised. However, the plot never thickens to a point where it gets too sticky for the audience -- Will's dad turns his acceptance speech into a declaration of love for his gay son, and Will kisses Jack on-air and that makes everything better.
The question is: should W&G be required to make a statement? As a television show on a major network with as many gay characters as straight characters, W&G should get points just for showing up. When it comes to the idea that they are living in a world that seems a little too gay-friendly, that's all part of the sitcom fantasy. No one believes for a second the characters in Friends can afford their apartments, or even their clothes and makeup, but we happily suspend our disbelief in order to be entertained for 30 minutes.
The focus for Will & Grace is the humor, and the possibilities are vast. Everyone has a signature flaw that gets made fun of all the time (and we never get tired of it, somehow). Will is fat (he's not, but to Jack, pretty much anyone is fat), Grace is neurotic, Karen drinks too much, and Jack is...well, Jack. He seems to think it's hard for people to tell he's gay, but all his friends know better. When Grace tells Karen that Jack's mother doesn't know he's gay, Karen frowns and says, "How could she not know? What is she -- headless?!"
Each character also represents a particular wish-fulfillment fantasy for the audience. Karen has a mean streak that would cause most of us to lose our friends and loved ones, but she manages to get away with it and even charm people in the process. After she carelessly insults everyone and walks out of Will's office, he sheepishly apologizes by saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't know she was coming -- she usually sends her flying monkeys." Will is the confident, accepted gay man, Grace is the successful entrepreneur with perfectly sculpted arms and hair, and Jack gets to be selfish, vain, and self-absorbed without alienating any of his friends. (Did I mention he and Karen are also soulmates?)
What I like about W&G is the sweet and sour tang. The characters have potential for both, depending on the situation. They can be unabashedly catty, then turn around and make a sweet gesture in the same scene, and the audience buys it. There's definitely something to that. This was the season where the cast chemistry definitely hit a stride, and that translated to a genuine feeling of intimacy and closeness on-screen for the audience to pick up on. For Will & Grace, it's the subtle touches that make the show stand out.
Video transfer for this collection is excellent, with only a slight softness in the picture that doesn't detract at all from viewing enjoyment. The soundtrack is clear and well balanced, except for the laugh track, which comes through a little too loudly. The themed clip-shows, liberally billed as "featurettes," are fun and well done, but they don't stand alone as extras. No other bonus material is included in this set, making it pretty bare bones. The packaging is very attractive and functional, with a cardboard sleeve and foldout container that has molded plastic fasteners for the discs and an episode guide printed on the back.
I can't stand the theme music. It makes me feel like I have just chugged ten cups of coffee. As you might expect, it plays over the DVD menu and during the mercifully short credit sequence. However, that in itself is a sort of torture, because the credit sequence is so short that, by the time I whip out the remote to fast forward past it, the music is over.
I also hated the audience laughter on this show. It was so ubiquitous that the actors frequently paused for it to die down before talking again, making it even more annoying. Was it my imagination, or was the audience actually louder than the show itself? Extremely irritating.
Although the "themed featurettes" are fun and plentiful, NBC could have done better. How about some cast interviews, a retrospective, or some commentaries? I would have liked to hear more about the celebrity cameos in the series, for instance.
Also, and this will be the most irritating for fans, the DVDs play the episodes out of order. The box fold-out correctly shows the final episode in Season Two as "Ben? Her?" parts one and two, but the DVD order has "Ben? Her?" at the beginning of Disc Four, with the season appearing to end on "An Affair To Forget," which was also encoded out of order. What gives?
Will & Grace Season Two makes a fine library addition for fans who are not picky about bonus features and extras that typically come with DVDs. Despite proclaiming the set is "loaded with extra features," clip shows are not featurettes. On the other hand, where else are you going to be able to see the lovely Joan Collins willingly camp it up with guacamole all over her face? Decisions...decisions...
W&G is found guilty of making me laugh until my abs hurt, and is instructed to get off their huffy bike and come up with some better extras next time.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* The Sounds of Comedy
* Out and About
* Speaking of Alcohol...
* Enter Stage Left
* Hugs & Kisses
* 9 to 5ish
* Fashion Quips
* With a Song in Our Hearts
* Everybody Dance
* A Rose By Any Other Name
* It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Joke's Told
* Let's Get Physical
* Web Archive for JustJack.com (mentioned this season)
* Review of Season One