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A look at how Will & Grace changed television for LGBT people forever

The show that is everyone’s problematic favourite.

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WILL & GRACE is set to come back to our screens after being cancelled eleven years ago. The show has always been extremely likable.

There were amazing cameos and guest appearances, from Britney Spears playing a self-proclaimed “hardcore lesbian” to Cher playing herself in the episode where Jack bumps into her and believes that it’s just a drag queen doing a cheap imitation of Cher, rather than the woman herself.

Pej Assemi / YouTube

While speaking of his endorsement of gay marriage, ex-Vice President Joe Biden credited the sitcom as being one of the biggest factors in changing how the public saw gay people over the last 20 years.

As an LGBT person, honestly my first reaction would be to roll my eyes at a statement like that, especially when it’s coming from a straight man in his mid-70′s who has no idea what it’s like to identify as anything other than straight.

At the same time, however, I kinda have to agree.

Now let’s be real, Will & Grace is hardly making any radical political statements. In fact, one of the recent previews of what we can expect in the new series had a joke where Will expresses his disgust and inability to speak with anyone who he knows will be voting for Donald Trump.

Grace retorts that Will had previously said he would have sex with Paul Ryan in the rotunda.

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It’s hard not to cringe at that, because it’s definitely a big reminder that Will is in fact a rich, liberal, white, cis, gay man. He can afford to make jokes about banging conservatives because he doesn’t have as many reasons to be repulsed by them. He might be gay, but apart from that he ticks all of the other boxes that they respect.

The background of the apartment is plastered in Hillary paraphernalia, which also speaks volumes about Will’s identity.

trump

The portrayal of Will as ‘neutered’ and chaste, well-educated and wealthy gay man has been a highly debated topic among LGBT people over the years. In one sense, I’m totally against bending over backwards in order to make queer people palatable for straight audiences. If LGBT identities offend you, that’s your problem and nobody is obliged to ‘act’ straight to make you comfortable.

Of course we have Jack to counter Will’s persona as the type of man on the other side of the screen on “MASC ONLY” Grindr profiles.

The problem is, Jack’s always the butt of the joke. While there are times when we do see a deeper emotional profile in Jack, for example when it’s revealed that despite being so camp and “over the top”, he still isn’t out to his mother, he doesn’t often go beyond the gay character that screams and flamboyantly flails their arms at everything.

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I’m making it very clear now, that this show is in no way a perfect representation of LGBT people. It’s completely sanitized and has definitely been responsible for fueling years and years of straight girls aspiring to have gay best friends.

Like Grace, they want someone that they can rely on to indulge them and undertake a huge amount of emotional labour that the men they date may be incapable of dealing with. They want gay men who will go shopping with them. They want gay men as accessories whether it be a gay man like Will or what Jack is to Karen.

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Will & Grace didn’t tackle important issues like dissecting the nuances of gay masculinity or looking at how class affects our perception of sexuality.

At the end of the day, I guess it is just a sitcom and while it’s not there explicitly to educate people, it definitely had a platform that no other show had before.

What Will & Grace did really well was treat gay characters like any other characters on TV at the time (the casts of which were all straight bar a show made by some lesbian in the 90′s called Ellen. Never heard of her).

For the majority of shows that decide to include LGBT characters, it seems like gay story-lines always have to be extremely dramatic and emotional. There’s always conflict. Someone usually dies or is shunned. Will & Grace shows that LGBT life does not have to be a life constantly revolving around tragedy and misfortune.

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While LGBT people do experience a lot of struggles, our lives aren’t always consumed by drama and chaos.

Shows like The L Word definitely couldn’t get it right – every second episode someone was engaging in a new affair, getting cancer or seducing a billionaire for no reason whatsoever. It was like lesbian Fair City.

The_L_Word_logo The bane of every lesbian's existence. Wikipedia Wikipedia

But in Will & Grace, the gay characters were having a pretty chill time. People saw for the first time that gay people CAN be just like everyone else. They’re just going about their day to day lives, joking with their roommates and when the story-line of Will and Grace having a baby together comes up, it’s hard to argue that either of them would be bad parents.

Will & Grace paved the way for shows like Modern Family that would include main characters who are gay, but whose sexuality would not be explored as a main theme. Honestly, queer people just aren’t constantly overwhelmed and guided by their sexuality in every decision they make in life. You don’t wake up and think of what gay things you’re going to get up to every day. No. That’s just for weekends.

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One of the co-creators of Will & Grace is David Kohan, brother of Jenji Kohan who is the creator of Orange Is The New Black.

Interestingly, Orange Is The New Black is also one of those shows that are pretty good at acknowledging that characters are LGBT but not constructing their whole story-line about that one personality trait.

With an obviously more diverse cast, Orange Is The New Black has brought characters to our screens that otherwise we are rarely exposed to, be it butch lesbian Boo or the whole array of amazing black and latinx characters of all sexual orientations and gender identities. I’m not sure what Jenji and David Kohan’s mam did, but she must be sound raising two kids like that.

Time 100 Gala 2016 in New York Jenji Kohan Dennis Van Tine / Geisler-Fotopress Dennis Van Tine / Geisler-Fotopress / Geisler-Fotopress

So, despite all of the problems that I’ve outlined and am completely willing to accept about Will & Grace, I watched it constantly as a child. Although I didn’t realise until now, this was the first show that ever presented me with gay characters and I never, for even one second doubted that they were regular people or that being gay determined their personalities at all.

I  do think it’s a special show and definitely one I’ll look forward to seeing when the new series is released in September. The characters are endearing and there’s no other relationship on television like that of Jack and Karen’s.

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 It’s nice to have a show with LGBT characters where you don’t have to be worried that your favourite character is going to die by the end of the season for once too.

The cast look like they’ve adapted well to 2017. The preview sets us up with an idea of where the gang are today, Will & Grace, as you would expect are big Hillary Clinton fans, while Karen who was always an unapologetically terrible person has been holidaying to Mar-a-Lago with Trump and Melania every weekend.

Meanwhile, Jack is going through a breakup with a guy whose horse is YouTube famous and best known for his reaction videos which include viral titles such as ‘Horse Side-eyeing Rachel Maddow’.

I know I’ve mentioned it already, but it’s hard to NOT want to watch a show that got Britney Spears, in the peak of her career, to say the words “I’m a hardcore lesbian. I’m into leather play, butch black girls [and a variety of obscure fetishes that I do not wish to transcribe]“.

Will & Grace / YouTube

 

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