Our reviews of Will And Grace: Season Two (published May 13th, 2004), Will And Grace: Season Three (published November 17th, 2004), Will And Grace: Season Four (published August 22nd, 2005), Will And Grace: Season Seven (published February 6th, 2008), Will And Grace: Season Eight (published December 19th, 2008), and Will And Grace: Series Finale (published June 21st, 2006) are also available.
"Politically, I'm tolerant of the heterosexual lifestyle, but the actual act is rather revolting."
I've always wondered why Will & Grace succeeded where Ellen went up in flames (pun intended). Was it that American audiences are more accepting of gay men than of gay women? Yeah, right. Did homophobia just disappear in the few months between the end of Ellen and the beginning of Will & Grace? No. So what's the difference?
I finally got my answer in an interview with creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick: Ellen's final season was all about her coming out, while Will and Jack have been out for years. Ellen was discovering a new world, new experiences, even a new language, and we were dragged along for the ride. Will and Jack are just living their lives. Consequently, Ellen became political and in your face about her sexual orientation, which didn't mesh well with comedy, especially if you were straight and not entirely sure what she was talking about. But Will and Jack are, well, just Will and just Jack, with a few inside jokes thrown in now and then, but never enough to alienate the audience. In other words, while Ellen became a show about a gay woman, Will & Grace has always been a show about the lives of four characters, two of whom are gay.
Facts of the Case
If you've never seen Will & Grace before, I'll give you a brief introduction:
Will Truman (Eric McCormack, Free Enterprise) and Grace Adler (Debra Messing, Ned and Stacey, The Mothman Prophecies) have been best friends since college. He's a lawyer; she's an interior designer. Oh, and he happens to be gay. I say "happens to be gay" because this is not a trait that defines him most of the time, unlike Will's other best friend, Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss), who is nothing but gay. He's flaming; he's a walking stereotype; he's fabulous! The last member of this ensemble show is Karen Walker (Megan Mullally). She's Grace's assistant (though she doesn't do much work…and why would she need to when she's filthy rich?) and quickly becomes Jack's soul mate. While Will and Grace are semi-normal people, though a little neurotic, who lead semi-normal lives, Jack and Karen are caricatures. They're extremes. But the balance works beautifully.
This four-disc set contains all 22 episodes of the first season of Will & Grace.
"A New Lease on Life"
"Between a Rock and a Harlin's Place"
"Where There's a Will, There's No Way"
"The Buying Game"
"The Truth about Will and Dogs"
"The Big Vent"
"Will on Ice"
"My Fair Maid-y"
"The Unsinkable Mommy Adler"
"Big Brother is Coming, Part I"
"Big Brother is Coming, Part II"
"Yours, Mine, or Ours"
"Secrets and Lays"
"Will Works Out"
"Object of my Rejection"
If you've never seen a single episode, reading the plot summaries above won't tell you much. That's because Will & Grace is not about the plot, not even a little. The plot is only there as an excuse to put the characters in different situations so they can tell jokes, interact, and be their hilarious selves. Sure, every once in a while, the characters grow a little, learn a lesson, become better people, but it's rare and it never sticks anyway. It doesn't matter, though, because they're funny, and that's the purpose of sitcoms—to make you laugh. Nobody watches sitcoms for the valuable insights into life and the human condition; they watch them to be entertained. And Will & Grace does a damn good job of that.
Well, at least I think it does. You may disagree. In fact, many do. The majority of the show's jokes are topical, based on current pop culture, and if you don't get the jokes, it's unlikely you'll enjoy the show. Keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that topical humor doesn't always age well, as evidenced by season one's "Sporty Spice" reference. But if you can get past the jokes that show their age (which are still a little funny, if you can remember back that far), you'll still find an engaging, occasionally side-splitting program. Of course, if your idea of "current" includes Nixon or even Reagan, then Will & Grace is definitely not the show for you.
But even past the quality topical humor, the show just has a certain chemistry that can't really be explained. Just seeing the characters in a room together, before they even say a word, makes me laugh. It could be preëmptive, in anticipation of what is usually a smart joke, but I think it's more. Perhaps it's the combination of the raw talent of the actors and the extreme skill of director James Burrows. Perhaps it's that there is a physical level to the humor of Will & Grace, so that even a slight facial expression or a shift in body position can speak volumes, all of them funny. Whatever it is, it's what makes me look forward to tuning in each week, what made me eager to review this DVD set.
Lions Gate made the smart decision to spread the 22 episodes of this season over four discs, which left plenty of room for some outstanding transfers. The full frame video is—I never thought I'd say this about any TV show, much less a sitcom—stunning. The picture is crisp and clear, the colors are bright, and the blacks are deep. Though not quite as impressive, the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is still very good. The levels are balanced, and there is a nice mix of treble and bass.
Of course, having a decent audio transfer only makes it easier to hear the dreaded laugh track. How can you enjoy anything over that laugh track? I knew there was a reason I've recently stopped watching almost all network sitcoms, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Within five minutes of starting to watch these DVDs, I had it figured out. I have a brain and a finely tuned sense of humor, so I know when something's funny and when it's not. I don't need to hear other people laughing to know when I should be laughing. I should be laughing when something's funny. Will & Grace's jokes are smart enough, its actors talented enough, that its audience will laugh, unprompted, when it should. Cut out the canned laughter.
It's too bad Lions Gate couldn't see fit to give us one more disc, this one with some substantial bonus features. Instead all we get is three piddly interviews (with horrendous audio tracks) and 20 minutes of clips (they're called "themed featurettes," but don't let that fool you—they're clips). No audio commentaries, not even one? No outtakes? Nothing else? Unacceptable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course audiences aren't complaining about Will & Grace the way they did about Ellen, because Will, the title character, isn't even gay. Sure, he claims he has relationships (and relations) with men, but did this first season include a single indication of either of those? Did we see Will go on a real date or kiss a man (other than Jack)? No. And that's how the audience wants it. They want gay men like Will, innocuous, "hetero-friendly." And if they absolutely are forced to watch a gay man who actually acts like a gay man, they want him to be Jack, easily labeled and, more importantly, easily ridiculed.
Where's the happy medium—the true-to-life gay man?
With its dearth of extras, I can't recommend this set for a purchase. Sure, the video and audio transfers are top notch, but how much do they really affect the sitcom-viewing experience? That leaves us with just the episodes, which you can catch in syndication everywhere you turn. So unless you're an obsessive fan, this set is probably not worth the money. If you've never seen the show or if you're an intermittent viewer, though, I'd recommend a rental.
But don't forget to heed my warning: current pop culture references abound—I accept no responsibility if the show goes over your head.
For not realizing that extras are key when releasing any syndicated show on DVD, Lions Gate is found guilty and sentenced to search the NBC vaults before releasing season two.
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Scales of Justice
• Interviews with the Creators (David Kohan and Max Mutchnick), the Director (James Burrows), and the Cast (Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, and Sean Hayes)
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