Say you never watched Will & Grace, and now, suddenly, you’re panicking that you’ve missed your chance.
Consider this your CliffsNotes: the last episode, plus a few nostalgic extras, rushed out on DVD after its May 18 airing on NBC. The Series Finale gives the feeling of watching all eight years, played at hyperspeed to fit in an hour, with banter, physical gags, and touching moments, at times mixed to perfection; a shrill middle stretch that relies too heavily on the antics of Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally); and a sweet, if flawed, ending. It would encapsulate the show completely if it also featured a rapid-fire succession of guest stars, added to distract us from the increasing dysfunction at the heart of Will and Grace’s romance-without-benefits.
Therein lay the issue that dogged the otherwise groundbreaking (and uniquely hilarious, at its peak) sitcom. The gay-straight relationship, more than a friendship but not quite coupledom, has to end eventually. But the situation in this comedy had to stay the same, so in later seasons the duo inched dangerously close to becoming as bitter and irritating as they were in Grace’s nightmare version of their future.
So kudos to creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick for trying to tackle that conundrum head-on here (and for not having Will and Jack pair off). But another problem surfaced: their resistance to saying goodbye. Thus we endure a swirl of confusing, unnecessary sequences, from Grace’s dream to current reality to two years later to their kids’ first day of college to their kids’ impending wedding. By the end, instead of being sad to bid adieu, we’re just relieved not to have yet another disbelief-suspending flash-forward thrust upon us.
The good news, of course, is that Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Hayes, and Mullally make pretty much anything funny and strangely tender. (Who else but Hayes and Mullally can turn ”Your knockers are looking particularly full tonight” and ”You have the balls of a 30-year-old” into heartfelt expressions of friendship?) Their talent and chemistry are lavishly lauded in the disc’s two short featurettes, along with heaping praise for director James Burrows. The cast even makes the requisite behind-the-scenes tour of the set and self-congratulatory interviews more fun than usual (”It became quite clear, within probably three episodes of working together, that it was going to be an orgy,” Messing deadpans). But the retrospective special that aired with the finale did an even better job of reminding us why this show is worth reverent remembrances. Forget the gay thing — no one does bawdy physical comedy and zingy one-liners like this foursome. So instead, get the season 2 DVD and relive Will & Grace at its best.