Sunday, January 30, 2005

TV: We'll miss Will & Grace

We're sure the national media will be starting the mourning of the "loss" of Everybody Loves Raymond next month. What is that show, fifteen minutes passing as a half hour as everyone does their slow burn and overreacts for extended minutes to milk laughs?

We've never been impressed with the nostalgic throwback that is Everybody Loves Raymond ('cause no woman works on the show? 'cause women are portrayed as unable to get along?) and we won't mourn it.

But before the "How will we live without Raymond?" craze gets started by the media, we thought we'd take a moment to mourn the passing of another show: Will & Grace.

What? you gasp.

No, it's cancellation hasn't been announced. It'll probably be back next year. But if NBC doesn't get their shit together quick, the show's dead. The life and novelty has long gone out of The Apprentice and Joey was D.O.A. Will & Grace is dragged down by both and reality shows and comedy do mix easily on the same night.

Will & Grace is a great show and has given us many laughs and many guest stars. Over seven seasons we've seen a huge amount of people dropping by including (but not limited to) the following:

Gregory Hines, Molly Shannon, Demi Moore, Michael Douglas, Madonna, Janet Jackson (who, we all sadly agree, was not funny), Jennifer Lopez, Matt Damon, Ellen DeGeneres, Woody Harrelson, Joan Collins, Elton John (who, we all sadly agree, was not funny), Debbie Reynolds, Cher, Minnie Driver, Dave Foley, Tracey Ullman, Sandra Bernhard, Macaulay Culkin, James Earl Jones, John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Neil Patrick Harris, Piper Laurie, Parker Posey, Patrick Dempsy, Natasha Lyonne, Lesley Ann Warren, Roseanna Arquette, Eileen Brennan, Gene Wilder, Rosie O'Donnell, Kevin, Bacon, Geena Davis, Glenn Close, Harry Connick Jr., Chris Penn, Bebe Neuwirth, Victor Garber, Jeff Goldblum, Blythe Danner, Tim Curry, Sara Gilbert,
Jack Black, Lily Tomlin, Nicolette Sheridan, Suzanne Pleshette, Sydney Pollack and Madonna.
(And in syndication, you'll see them over and over because the show doesn't play in order in syndication -- instead, they seem to hop from episode to episode always trying to spotlight one with a guest star.)

But sandwiched between Joey and The Apprentice on Thursday nights, we don't think a show guest starring Robert Redford, Jude Law, Sharon Stone and Thandie Newton could let it see season nine. It's a real shame because we have all followed it as it lept around the week after starting out on Monday nights. (It would be given a try out on Thursdays early on but end up on Tuesdays before finally making it onto the Thursday line up.)

As funny as it still is, it may be time to prepare for letting go, not just because the rest of the lineup drags it down but because something's changed.

Karen's gotten a little, well, ditzy. But that's not it -- no, that can easily be explained with the excuse that she was sampling new meds. Jack's become more cartoonish but three of us feel that when he rejected a career in nursing to continue to pursue his acting destiny as an aging ingenue, he was rejecting reality. Will's more or less the same. So what's changed?

The big change, the troubling one, is Grace Adler as fashion plate.

They can explain the perfect outfits and perfect hair in one tiny scene, no problem.

For instance:

Grace walks into the office as Karen looks her up and down.

Karen: Grace, that blouse looks like you raided -- Grace, those pants are giving me --
Those shoes -- Oh hell, I've got nothing. You look great.

Grace twirls and bows.

Grace: Thank you.

Grace walks over to her desk more than pleased with herself while Karen studies her.

Grace: You helped me.

Karen: Me?

Grace: Yep. After years of you pointing out my fashion don'ts, I finally learned how to dress properly. So thank you, Karen. You've been my mentor and now you're work is done.

Karen laughs, stands up and walks over to Grace and pats her on the shoulder.

Karen: Oh honey, I'm so proud of you. Now we can get to work on something that really matters, like that train wreck you call a sex life.

Grace does a slow burn while Karen smiles.

That's all it would take to explain Grace's make over -- her transformation into a fashion plate. But plot point aside, did anyone stop to point out that Lucille Ball focused on being a clown on I Love Lucy? People didn't love Lucy because she wore designer clothes, they loved her because she was funny.

Part of what made Grace so funny was her outlandish style. Her fashion choices reflected that she didn't have it all together so, when she got off a mean spirited barb, it was funny because she was such a mess. Now days, Grace often just comes off as bitchy. The same sort of lines once spoken by wacky Grace sailed right over home plate, but with Fashion Grace saying them, they leave an after taste.

If any one thing has detracted from the show in the later years, it would be altering Grace Adler.
We've accepted that Will will never get onscreen bedroom action (though Grace does). We're used to Jack's sex life making an appearence only as a funny anecdote he tosses off from time to time. And, as we said before, anything questionable that Karen does we can put off to new meds (we'll assume that on the first episodes she was on some really bad meds which is why Megan Mullally found a different voice around the third episode and has used it ever since). We can accept almost anything except the loss of wacky Grace.

For the Golden Globes or the Emmys, for anything Messing does as Debra Messing, she can dress to the nines. But those stylish clothes on Grace detract from who the character was and they don't reflect the insecurity that still causes Grace to make the comments she does. As the ultimate fashion disaster, she could rail against the Sarah Jessica Loves and get away with it because, although a beautiful woman, she was a beautiful mess. The make over has robbed her character of likeability. (As Ava says, making a comparison to Absolutely Fabulous, to have a Patsy, you have to have an Edina. Now we're left with two Karens and no Grace.)

So maybe it's just as well that NBC can't get its house in order which means Will & Grace will probably end in May of 2006?

There was a scene awhile back when Will said things used to be different when they were two losers and Grace responded that she was still a loser. We should all be such losers. It was suspend disbelief time but, no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn't buy it.

There's no reason that over seven years Grace Adler couldn't be transformed but they haven't changed the character, just her hair and wardrobe and given her "grace.' They still want to get the laughs from the clumsy, ill adjusted Grace, but it doesn't jibe with the cool, collected woman you see onscreen. We expect that will become more and more obvious as the show goes on. And by the start of season eight, we may be rooting for the end.

But when it does come, a few suggestions.

1) Whether there's a same-sex ceremony for Will or not, he does need an on air romantic kiss. This show came on post-Ellen and it's done less to enlarge the landscape than Ellen did in what we'll call two seasons. (Ellen didn't come out until the last episodes of the second to the last season.)

Yes, Will & Grace has demonstrated that you can have a successful show with one straight character and one gay character. (As well as one supporting gay character and what has to be one bisexual character.) (Karen's long passed the "I told you Grace, I only did that once in college and it was to borrow a skirt" bit.) But didn't that get proven some time ago?

The awkward attempts to physically convey a relationship between Will and whatever male guest star happens to be popping by are decidely in pre-Ellen territory (we're talking Melrose Place where they infamously cut away from a same-sex kiss to show Andrew Shue's slack-jawed Billy).

2) We'll accept Rosario's devotion to Karen and Karen's to Rosario but it's past time that Shelly Morrison got a love interest. If he were wealthy, it could be all the more amusing as Karen competes to keep Rosie as her full time maid.

3) Work Molly Shannon into at least two more episodes. Val is to Will & Grace what Janice was to Friends. Ideally, she should pop up in the last episode.

4) Rob and Ellen haven't been used nearly enough. They are Will & Grace without the snap and the contrast is usually funny. It may be time for a full on war in an episode where they compete against Will and Grace in a game.

5) If they want to give Grace a happy ending, they need to get to work on talking Woody Harrelson into returning as Nathan. Harry Connick Jr. came off like a good sport, Harrelson threw himself into the spirit of the show.

6) Lastly, since Jack's most often mentioned role model is Cher, they should attempt to talk her into doing a third appearence for her to counsel him (in reality or in another of his dreams) because his life remains fluid (to be kind) and the only way to tie a bow around that and stamp it happy is to have Cher share some words of wisdom with him. Should the show end with Will in a real relationship, Jack may need all the counseling he can get.

We don't expect that any of the suggestions will be followed but since it's the last consistently funny sitcom on TV, we figured we'd weigh in while there was still time.
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