Like slipping into your favourite pair of boxers or snuggling up with Anderson Cooper, the return of Will And Grace is like catching up with a breezy, comforting old friend. Once you adjust to how everyone has weathered the intervening 11 years and how little everyone’s apartments or sense of style has altered, you can relax into swift popular culture repartee, clumsy slapstick and, in the first episode, clumsier political comment.
Within the first few minutes, the titular power couple of parlour games name-check Caitlyn Jenner, Grindr and Melania Trump to establish their contemporary credentials. In the same breath, the timeline of the last season is successfully swept away with Karen’s Dallas-like dream, leaving us with essentially the same characters and set up we encountered at the start of season one.
Karen continues to own her dignity and indignities even in the face of physical and emotional misadventure. With her unwavering presumption of social and financial superiority, she hits the Patsy Stone comic buttons for pill popping, drinking without consequences and observing the ridiculous in one-liners. From “What’s with the Laura Bush pour, give me the full Pat Nixon” when served a drink in the Oval Office, to enjoying swimming like sperm in her flooded shower, Karen knows and shows no shame.
Grace and Jack continue to lose control and dignity. Jack, as before, has no self-awareness, while Grace is all too aware. Jack in his perennial woollen vest combo, is still immersed in superficial trends of the non-clothing variety, and one-upping Will in terms of sexual experiences.
Playing to Messing’s comic talents, the second episode pays homage to I Love Lucy in the flooding shower episode.
In the first episode Jack provides, frighteningly for supporters of hard line anti-terrorism measures, a comic insight into the pervasiveness of gays inside the secret service. Agent Lenny (Kyle Bornheimer) can’t resist his baby-blue eyes and delivers an on-screen kiss that, in earlier seasons, would’ve been a news story of its own.
With Grace, the show continues to pay homage to I Love Lucy, playing to Debra Messing’s comic talents. Her slapstick adventures – in the second episode re-imagining the Lucy and Viv stuck in a flooding shower episode – positioning her as the earnest, fallible and most easily mocked fixture of the foursome.
So far the new season doesn’t appear to reflect the identity politics that has reshaped the social landscape in the last decade, but it does promise to provide a reflection of an ageing Generation X. The new grey daddies – the anchor men – the Anderson Coopers.
While Jack’s attempts to sleep with a younger man involve the slapstick tropes of trying to look younger, with the introduction of scrotox, neck magnets and compression suits, Will’s date with a younger man re-establishes his role as the materially successful but pleasure-seeking conservative. Will would rather preach to 23-year-old Blake, played by Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt, about the history of gay political actitivisim that has ensured current freedoms, than have sex with him.
Like the original Will And Grace, the new season certainly wears its popular culture references on its sleeve. With a wink to the modern world, its heart remains with an audience that uses Madonna as a barometer of age, Baby June Havoc and Iggy Pop as easy contrasts and expects a lecture to the young to be understood through the prism of a Designing Women catchphrase.
A very comfortable pair of boxers for anyone over 35 – Anderson Cooper or not.