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In fall 1998, NBC debuted a new comedy, Will & Grace, during the 9 p.m. hour on Sept. 21. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
It’s been said that virtually every comedic premise has been explored. Some many times over. Chances are, though, there’s never been a comedy about a gay man and straight woman who are best friends and roommates. Until now.
The scenario in Will & Grace is absolutely guaranteed to drive the Moral Majority types crazy. Do they condemn the show for its validation of gay lifestyles or praise it for its demonstration of sexual abstinence?
For a critic, the choice is easier. Good acting, intriguing relationships and some of the best supporting actors in any series make the show easy to endorse.
Debra Messing (Ned and Stacey) plays Grace, who is on the verge of getting married to a guy she loves, but not passionately. Her best friend Will (Eric McCormack) tries hard to stifle his feelings about the impending union but can’t. He tells Grace that her fiancé is just not good enough and that she can and will do better. The eventual outcome is never in doubt, but the route to that point is filled with unexpected twists and turns.
Will has just seen the breakup of his own seven-year relationship, but he appears fairly unfazed by it. Given TV conventions and sensitivities, it’s unlikely he will be allowed the same liberty as Grace to mourn openly the demise of his romantic involvement.
Although Will exhibits no stereotypical gay characteristics (in this show Grace is the interior decorator), his good friend Jack (Sean Hayes) is so obviously gay that his inability to recognize it becomes a running gag. Hayes’ performance of the self-absorbed Jack is absolutely inspired, as is Megan Mullally’s work as Karen, Grace’s assistant. Karen is independently wealthy, believes in the ultimate healing and power of a checkbook and only took the job at Grace’s office only to stay grounded. So far it’s not working.
James Burrows directed the pilot and is to direct all succeeding episodes, an enormous advantage for any comedy. Few directors are as adept at bringing out relationship humor without sacrificing any tender moments.
A show with this much respect for its characters and its audience deserves a fighting chance. Unfortunately for Will & Grace, it will face the stiffest competition from the start, facing off against Monday Night Football on ABC, Ally McBeal on Fox and another well-written new sitcom, The Brian Benben Show, on CBS. Thank heaven for VCRs. — Barry Garron
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