Sunday, May 21, 2006

TV Review: Will & Grace -- goodbye, good riddance

Thursday night, NBC's Will & Grace ended its eighth season and its series run.

For us, the funniest plot revolved around Rosario (Shelley Morrison) and Val (regular guest-star Molly Shannon). Having fought Grace, stalked Jack and been knocked out by Karen, it was past time Val set her eyes on Rosario.

"Hey, Nutso!" Rosario cried catching Val watching her wax the floors of Karen's mansion, "if you get off on household fluids, go stalk Mr. Clean!"

Of course Val did no such thing, but she did provide Rosario with a scheme to oust Karen (Megan Mullally) from the manse and make it her own. It was hilarious, and a long time coming, to see Rosario get the upper hand.

Meanwhile, Grace's water broke just as Leo (Harry Connick, Jr.) showed up and learned he was the father of the baby. Accompanying Grace (Deborah Messing) and Will (Eric McCormack) to the hospital and listening to them bicker throughout the labor, he finally had to face the reality that, while there was a place for him in Grace's life, the friendship bond between Will and Grace will never fade or die.

Jack rediscovered the joys of performing when a recently out of the closet Harlin (Gary Grubbs) returned to announce he's purchased a legitimate theater on Broadway which will be where Just Jack: 2010 will debut. "Oh my God," Jack will realize, "that only leaves me four years to pull my act together!"

Best line in the subplot was probably when Harlin explained to Jack why it took so long for him to realize his own sexuality, "I'm from Texas, Jack. We watch a lot of football. Took me forever to realize it wasn't the cries of 'Hut one! Hut two!' that were getting me excited. It was the the buns in the air on the guy crouched over --"

"That's great," Jack replied. "Now about my revue. I see sequins. I think it's important to sparkle when I move."

Which leads him to recruit Bobbie Adler (Debbie Reynolds) to help him with arrangements and choreography -- a post she readily accepts because she's determined to sabotage the production in order to take the lead in her own show Menopause or The Men All Paused: Bobbie Adler's Salute to Rocking Pop Classics of the '80s and Life Changes.

Best of all may be the moment when Rob (Tom Gallop) and Ellen (Leigh Allyn Baker) put Leo straight: Will and Grace and Leo, without the buffer zone of Will, is just Rob and Ellen.

"Long term marriage without the sex," Ellen explained.

"Long term marriage without the sex, Leo," Rob confirmed nodding agreeably.

"That's what I just said, Rob!" Ellen snarls at her husband.

It was hilarious. It wrapped up threads and points you might have feared were forgotten.

It was a classic series finale . . . if, like us, you provided your own finale.

If, however, you merely watched the two hours on NBC (one hour of tribute, one hour of show), you should probably immediately head for the nearest police station -- you were robbed.

You were robbed of laughter, you were robbed of joy.

Someone thought that instead of wrapping up details, we need an "experience." Despite having an hour, the laughs were in short supply -- but then when you time travel forward over eighteen years offering "experience" there's so little time for anything else.

You read that correctly. Will & Grace, the show that could utilize multiple minutes with the game of Hate Her/Love Her (where Will and Grace flipped through a magazine noting celebrities) suddenly decided it really needed to say something.

What it had to say wasn't funny and, hate to break it to them, it wasn't worth hearing.

We expect to hear from friends involved with the show about this review. If the critique hurts, consider the pain you inflicted on the viewers with that finale and accept the review as payback.

What was the heart of the show? Will & Grace, their friendship. Early on in the finale, that's destroyed. But, good news!, in two years time they make up! Of course, with the good comes the bad -- basically the full hour episode -- which is they then avoid each other for about fifteen years.

This is an ode to friendship?

This wasn't about fate -- a concept the cynical Will & Grace would normally sneer at before a half-hour episode's end -- it was saying that the friendship was too intense and needed a long rest. That was the message from beginning to end of the finale, belabored, underlined, highlighted and spelled out. If Grace hadn't broken with Will, she never would have been happy! Nor would he!

So we ask you, dear readers, are you unhappy?

A little or a lot?

Maybe you're just bored?

Well, look to the person nearest and dearest. That friend, the one that you think has helped pull you through? No, no, no, he or she has pulled you down. For years. And years. You must break with him or her.

Considering that we're talking about a show with two gay characters (and Karen), Will & Grace has seldom had anything to say about or to a community. What it has offered is the importance of friendship. It spits on that concept with the finale. The message is, if Will and Grace had moved out on each other sooner (and stopped being friends), they would have actually gotten on with their lives.

Maybe that message seems familiar? If it does, it's probably because the show has floated it before. As early as Jack and Rosario's wedding (season one finale), Will and Grace were splitting up. That moment repeated throughout the life of the show. But the thing was, the characters, all of them, knew that wasn't reality. Reality was that Grace could never make up her mind about men. (She was breaking up with Ben until he beat her to it and suddenly she had to have him. That's the basic Grace storyline throughout the show.) Reality is that Will couldn't have a successful relationship because NBC worried that gay love scenes would freak out viewers.

This is the post-Ellen show. And it did very little for gays and lesbians by comparison. Ellen ended with a roar. Will & Grace came along with the producers repeatedly belaboring that they weren't Ellen. And they weren't. They had to have many years of ratings success before they'd finally attempt a same-sex kiss that wasn't played for laughs. Will & Grace was some sort of regressive Hokey Pokey television program, you take two steps back and inch your big toe forward, you take three steps back and . . .

But on the show, we were supposed to believe that Will's relationships died because he was too controlling. For most of the series, we were told that and not shown it because the men were all offscreen (such as Michael) or the romantic/sex scenes happened out of camera range (which is also true of the bulk of Jack's love life as well).

As early as the show's seventh episode, Grace was blaming Will for the state of her romantic life.
Season two had them encountering the bitter, angry Joseph and Sharon -- a possible fate that awaited them both. This happened repeatedly, these warnings, and always the characters rejected it. The characters, like the audience, understood the importance of friendship. A full hour and over eighteen years to cover might have seemed like the perfect time for a 'life lesson' to the producers, but it spat on the audience who made this show a hit by embracing 'the destructive power of friendship' message as the show faded to black.

Until the last episode, the jokes were always there, the timing was always there and it was all built on the bedrock of the two main characters' friendship. On the finale, they decide to pull the rug out from under the audience.

What falls to the floor is their own understanding of what made the show a hit.

Refuting everything the show's endorsed didn't leave them any time to be funny. If, like us, you see the episode as one producer's attempt to demonstrate that he and his own Grace couldn't cut it as friends, but that doesn't mean they weren't important to each other, you may wonder why he can't grasp what the audience long had -- Will & Grace left the world of mortals some time ago.

No one needed someone's sorry reality to go out on. No one watching needed to wipe some bitter producer's spit off their face. Will and Grace surpassed their prototypes years ago (probably somewhere around the taping of the first episode), to drag them back down to someone's ugly reality wasn't funny, wasn't entertaining and wasn't worth watching.

Ty says we (Ava and C.I.) got a number of e-mails on Friday complaining that last week we didn't tell readers the character of Eric was returning for the final episode of the other Thursday night finale. We didn't. We told you that That 70s Show paid up the debt to the viewers. We hinted several times. But they were attempting to keep Topher Grace's return a secret so we weren't going to spoil it.

Normally, we'd stand by that decision. However, having watched as puke was hurled from the screen on NBC, we think now that maybe we should have headlined that piece, "Watch That 70s Show season finale -- Topher Grace returns!" The surprise we may have spoiled for some would have been minimal compared to the damage Will & Grace did to its loyal viewers in the lousy, disgraceful finale.

The only good thing about the ending is we don't have to fear Will & Grace: The Reunion. Not just because the earliest they could do an update is about twenty years from now. But also because, who the hell would want to watch? In one hour, they destroyed all the good will they'd built up.

The thing with actors in comedy roles is that they some times get a little itchy for 'drama' to prove to everyone they can 'act.' Possibly that's why the actors didn't scream when they got the script? They should have screamed. They should have said no. The network couldn't. It was the final episode, they had no say other than to air or not air (they shouldn't have aired it, or else burned it off during the summer). The actors were the audience's last line of defense and they failed the audience.

Friday, friends started calling to ask "What the hell was that?" Good question. Hope no one involved with the show is dreaming Emmy wins because most of the people who would normally vote for the show and its team are pretty disgusted with the sh*t that made it on air -- maybe that'll fade by nomination time but right now the mood is disgusted.

It had nothing to do with the characters or with the audience, it had to do with one drama queen (with a St. Elmo's Fire fetish) wanting to work through their own personal issues. As a friend in programming said, "That's what therapy's for."

If you missed the finale (consider yourself lucky) but watched at other times, let's explain to you what you were spared. Having already had a dream sequence (that was actually funny) where the characters aged, you might have thought makeup wouldn't be overly taxed for the rest of the episode but you'd be wrong. We had to see three attractive performers "aged." (Three because the joke for the character Karen was that she avoided aging through repeated surgery -- the same joke they trotted out in the dream sequence.)

Deborah Messing, if you really look that way in 20 years, avoid the cameras. Really, no one needs to see that. And the thing is, these days most people don't see that. Not because of plastic surgery (though that helps some people) but because the boomer generation broke the concept of what middle aged looks like. But not on this show. On this show, finding the characters in the near future means finding them fat, tired and ugly. Which, by the way, wasn't played for laughs.

Now when you're sleek, shiny and pretty much all surface (Will & Grace was) appearance matters. The show that never wanted to say anything that couldn't be prefaced with a pop cultural reference suddenly had a "message." The message was that when a gay man and straight woman are friends, they will always stand in the way of each other's happiness and only by ending the friendship (sixteen years is ending, not a "break") can happiness be brought about. It's an ugly message and a bit like The Andy Griffith Show deciding to go out with a hard hitting look at police abuse. It was unneeded and unwanted.

Val? If you're wondering, she wasn't on. Nor Rob or Ellen. Who has the time to provide characters the audience loved, let alone laughs, when you've want to preach the sort of hate that usually comes out of Jerry Falwell's mouth?

Sure, Will kissed a homophobe in a hospital (don't ask, it wasn't funny, it was just preachy -- the whole hour played as though everyone had just graduated from some right-wing divinity school). But the real message was -- and Falwell, Dobson, et al can take comfort in this -- a friendship between gay and straight only brings misery. We've gone beyond the stereotpye that gays will lead unhappy lives to a new one that says not only are they prone to unhappiness (such as breaking off friendships), but they're bound and determined to drag down every straight person who befriends them.

The producers were right the first year when they told Entertainment Weekly that they weren't making Ellen. Where that show (with the coming out) offered a look that went beyond the stereotypical, Will & Grace didn't. If the same-sex possibilites (largely off screen) bothered you too much, you only had to wait a moment or two before Karen was using some stereotypical insult for gays and lesbians. Or maybe Jack would launch into yet another attack on lesbians -- fun for lesbian-haters of all orientations!

A braver show on friendship, Sex in the City, didn't feel the need to trash friendship as they offered up their final episode. Detractors may argue that Karen and Jack demonstrated the counter-opinion -- that a straight and gay could be friends and helpful to one another. Anyone making that argument has a very elastic concept of straight considering Karen's sexual history.

So here's what happened. You spent eight seasons celebrating friendship only to learn in the last episode that, indeed, the friendship held the main characters back, prevented them from living.
It's an ugly message and it's really too bad Will & Grace bothered to come back from the nonsense (and laugh killer) of Grace as fashion plate. They did come back from that. But now our attitude is why did they even bother? Over a year ago, we wrote "We Will Miss Will & Grace." The last episode made letting go so easy.

It also made us fear tonight's finale, another show going off after eight seasons. We worry that if we watch the final episode of Charmed, we'll be informed that Piper could have had joy, happiness and non-stop good times if only she hadn't been held back by those two sisters (Phoebe and Paige currently; Phoebe and Pru originally). If Will & Grace can use the last episode to destroy all they stood for, sky's the limit for the super natural sisters of Charmed.
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