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'Will & Grace' Returns To TV


OK. We're going to talk a little bit about television now. Maybe you remember a gay lawyer and a straight interior designer who made TV history. Here they are playing a party game in the 1998 pilot of their TV show.


ERIC MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) Professor Gopnick's teeth.

DEBRA MESSING: (As Grace Adler) Things that are yellow.

MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) Yes.


MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) A cane, a railing...

MESSING: (As Grace Adler) Will, come on, give me another clue.

MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) Each other.

MESSING: (As Grace Adler) Things that you lean on.

MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) That's it.

MESSING: (As Grace Adler) Yes.

GREENE: Yes, Will and Grace, and they are now back with Jack and Karen. It's a revival of the NBC comedy "Will & Grace." It is premiering tomorrow night. The original - it was a huge hit. It ran for eight seasons, probably did more to make mainstream television audiences familiar with LGBT characters than any show that came before it. I'm sitting in the studio with NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes, who is going to tell us how eager she is or not for the new "Will & Grace."


GREENE: Hello, Linda, how are you?

HOLMES: Hi, I'm good. I'm good. I'm excited about "Will & Grace."

GREENE: Well, good. So how did this revival come about?

HOLMES: Well, if you saw the original finale of "Will & Grace" in 2006, you know that they kind of painted themselves into a little bit of a corner because they jumped forward decades to tell you kind of everything that happened in the future. But last year, they got together, the cast, to make a little video to encourage people to vote, and they had so much fun doing it that they decided to, you know, start talking about bringing it back, and that's what they're doing. So in the first new episode, they kind of explain how they're tossing out most of what happened in their original finale. They just kind of hand...

GREENE: Oops, we didn't mean any of that.

HOLMES: They just kind of hand-wave at it.

GREENE: So you've seen a couple of the new episodes.

HOLMES: Yes. I have seen a couple of the new episodes.

GREENE: Do you like them, do you not?

HOLMES: I really liked this show when it was on the first time. I think the new episodes are a little uneven. They feel a little low energy to me. I think there are moments that are really funny. It does feel a little like what it is, which is a reunion that's as much I think for them to go back and do something that they love as it is something that is driven by any particular creative impulse. One of the things they always had was great guests, and there's a guest appearance by Ben Platt, who just won a Tony for being in "Dear Evan Hansen."


HOLMES: And he's so funny in it, and it brings this kind of jolt of weird energy that I very much appreciated.

GREENE: This doesn't seem like a 10 out of 10, though. This is a bit of a comedown for a show that is - that was so beloved and so groundbreaking.

HOLMES: I think that's right. It's very difficult for a show that was so fresh in the 1990s to find a way to still feel fresh. And it's done the same way. It's shot the same way. It feels the same. And what's groundbreaking, particularly about LGBT characters, has really changed in that time. In fact, "Will & Grace" has a pretty unpleasant history with jokes about transgender people, which were always kind of tossed off. They've acknowledged that they're going to have to address that differently. But the groundbreaking qualities of the show don't feel quite so groundbreaking anymore. Although, they do do everything they can to kind of go back. You heard them playing a party game in the intro. In the very first episode, they also play that same party game, and I brought you a clip of it.


MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) He's a man, but he's aged into a lesbian.

MESSING: (As Grace Adler) Steven Tyler, Jon Voight, Newt Gingrich.

MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) Yes.


MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) She's - don't get me started.

MESSING: (As Grade Adler) Jada Pinkett Smith.

MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) Yes.


GREENE: So is the potential problem that the time has just passed, that we're in a different moment?

HOLMES: Well, it's trading so much on the affection that people have for these characters. When they get going, it is a lot of fun, but there's not a lot of dramatic push. You're now seeing these people as essentially middle-aged people who are still just kind of kicking around, insulting each other, which feels a little different than it did when they were very young. It struggles, I think, a bit to feel important.

GREENE: All right, the views from NPR's pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes on the new "Will & Grace," which is premiering tomorrow. Thanks, Linda.

HOLMES: Thank you, David.


Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.