[9 December 2008]
Eight years of Grace’s ruffled shirts, Will cooking up a storm in the kitchen, Karen’s pill-popping, and “Just Jack”. Any fan of the long-running series will covet this cleverly packaged 33-disc set, covered in pictures of the fab four pushing the boundaries of the metaphorical box itself, stretching TV comedy in their own special way from 1998 to 2006.
It’s hard to compare Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace’s (Debra Messing) roommate relationship to any other comedy duo on television; the gay lawyer and straight interior designer have a logic all their own. Mood-swinging wildly from intensely supportive of each other to irredeemably depressed and cranky, without the physical comedy and snappy one-liners this series wouldn’t have lasted for eight years.
It was clear from the start: the unusual premise worked because these two actors have fantastic charisma together.
At times it seems like Will and Grace read each other’s minds, like when they play party games around the coffee table and mercilessly destroy their competition. At other times the fact that they know each other so well manifests itself when a hurtful accusation hits a bullseye. Just when it seems like their disagreements might come to blows (or at least cruel remarks about fashion sense), Jack (Sean Hayes) or Karen (Megan Mullally) usually breeze in and provide an inane distraction.
As it is, extra material on the (lonely) bonus DVD reveals that the show’s writers were instructed to listen to the actors’ input on what worked and what needed to be changed during the show. Messing’s first line on the show was apparently written on the floor after the script didn’t pan out. And it seems that Grace’s clutziness and fantastic sense of comedic timing only made it into the show with dedication from Messing; she points out to McCormack during a voiceover on the extra content disc that she wasn’t willing to be just a pretty face on the show. She wanted more for her character, she wanted to be funny, and it worked, with more than a nod to comedienne extraordinaire, Lucille Ball.
Having the opportunity to peruse each of the eight seasons allows one to watch Grace’s hair go though a number of shades of red and levels of curliness, varying from Medusa spirals to gentle waves. Her makeup also undergoes a transition: from ‘pancake clown’ (according to James Burrows, the director, and two main writers during their commentary on the first episode) to Botticelli-natural over the course of the show, making it seem much like Messing doesn’t age through the years.
Few will remember Will’s flowing locks from the start of the series; luckily his shoulder-length tresses are trimmed by the time the second episode is taped. Burrows points out on the bonus CD that McCormack’s hair very likely got him the job, and laughs about the irony of his speedy haircut.
During their pilot episode voiceover, the director describes Jack and Karen as the funhouse mirror image of Will and Grace, and point out that while Hayes had his roll as Jack down at the start, Mullally needed a little more time to develop Karen’s character to her satisfaction. Watching the first episode and then a later one, the viewer will notice her voice change as Mullally figures out how to make Karen work as a character. Both Hayes and Mullally were game for the numerous musical numbers or theatrical turns they manage to work into the series. All four actors are obviously talented at thinking on their feet, and definitely willing to try new approaches to made-for-TV comedy.
Testament to the height of popularity this show reached are the appearances of such guest stars as John Cleese, Minnie Driver, James Earl Jones, Candice Bergen, Jack Black, Tracy Ullman and the list goes on. Over its eight years Will & Grace won its share of awards, including numerous Emmys, People’s Choice, Teen Choice and TV Guide awards, plus nearly countless nominations.
Unfortunately this set is somewhat lacking in extra content, so those who have already collected individual years of the series aren’t missing much. It’s hard to believe that there wasn’t plenty of material to put on an outtakes disc, or interviews with any of the cast. Messing and McCormack provide recently recorded commentary for three episodes. Listening to them reminisce while they review each of their favorite episodes is nice, but it’s no substitute for the kind of extra content that viewers have grown accustomed to with DVD box sets these days. The themed featurettes are interesting, as photo montages go, but ultimately inadequate.
The content of the series itself is accounted for: from memories of Will and Grace’s few moments of betrothal as Columbia co-eds with terrible hair and worse clothes, to Grace’s disastrous marriage with doctor Leo, played by Harry Connick, Jr, and Will’s committed relationship with his policeman boyfriend, Vince. The show was not afraid to show its sensitive side, even if an emotional moment might be followed by a joke.
Multiple bookends close off the series in the finale, from nods to the phone call in the pilot episode where Will and Grace sound more like a flirtatious couple than best friends, to the bar they have their final tequila shots in, which is also the scene of a first-season kiss following Grace’s runaway bride moment. I won’t give away the end of the show for those who may have missed it, but let’s just say that Will and Grace’s relationship is grounded in fate, and their connection impossible to escape.