Will & Grace – The end of a gay era

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Gay America will be filled with mixed emotions tonight as the groundbreaking NBC sitcom Will Grace ends its eight-year run with a two-hour series finale.

The show, which has tumbled in the ratings over the past two seasons from its one time top-ten status, has admittedly alienated a number of its gay fans in the past few years, relying on a bevy of A-list guest stars and stunt casting to mask sagging scripts.

The same show that Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) president Neil Giuliano said has given “unprecedented visibility to gay, lesbian and bisexual people” has gone from a peak of 17.1 million viewers in 2001 to an average of 7.8 million viewers this season.

The show that once attracted a slew of gay and lesbian fans to bars across the United States for drink specials and Will Grace every Thursday night has been dismissed in recent years for failing to allow Will and Jack to evolve into anything more than a gay stereotype.

Will Grace debuted on NBC in September 1998, weeks after the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, just months after Ellen DeGeneres came out in a groundbreaking episode of Ellen, and was subsequently cancelled.

The show, which starred two straight men in gay roles (series star Eric McCormack is married with a kid; Sean Hayes refuses to discuss his sexuality publicly), enjoyed a steady debut, but went on to achieve hit status when it was scheduled on the one-time popular Must See TV comedy block after Friends on Thursday nights.

The antics of Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Hayes) broke out as the real stars of the show, while Debra Messing emerged as a star with cross over appear to film and all four actors became activists and champions for the gay community.

Classic episodes like Grace’s waterbra incident (they popped), Stan’s death and subsequent run-ins between Karen and Stan’s girlfriend Lorraine (Minnie Driver), the sexual tension between Karen Grace that ran throughout the series and Karen, Jack and Will’s very gay Christmas disappeared as the show shifted its focus.

Grace got married, then separated, then divorced, then Messing got pregnant in real life and had to disappear for a few months… the foursome broke up, and with it, the writing suffered.

The show, which found its joy and hit its stride on snide, gay style cut-downs (Karen dogging Grace’s fashion sense; Jack calling the impossibly thin McCormack fat), occasionally touched on gay issues (marriage rights were discussed in several episodes) and brought the lives of gay men into homes nationwide, was fading.

Will Grace fell into a creative and ratings glut with the disappearance of Friends from television two years ago.

A parade of guest stars, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Damon, Kevin Bacon, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Demi Moore, the list continues to Britney Spears just a month ago, took the spotlight away from the seasoned cast and frequently funny, occasionally thought-provoking writing. Will Grace caved under the pressure to be America’s gay voice and became a gimmick.

Fans were reported to be annoyed by stereotypical gay behaviour, like the fact that try as he might, producers just wouldn’t let Will have a boyfriend

But in recent weeks the show has found its footing again, getting Will back together with his cop ex-boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), tossing every conceivable cause for disaster in the paths of Jack Karen as they work on his show Jack Talk, and giving Grace the one thing she’d better not mess up, a baby.

So, as the show wraps up its run tonight (with a one hour retrospective followed by a one hour finale), in the spirit of giving the Will Grace a chance to redeem itself, a look back at a few of the finest moments in the history in this one time great show, and the promise that the finale might just offer a glimmer of what Will Grace once was.

Karen and Rosario, a life time of cutdowns- Did we ever laugh harder than when Lorraine (Minnie Driver), jealous that Stan has left his millions to Karen, tossed Ms. Walker off her own yacht, only to have Rosario jump in to save her. What about Karen’s many ploys to keep Rosario in the country? This was the real comedic dynamo.

Jack’s café – Who wouldn’t want to pull up a chair and sit with Karen and Jack at this lovely, indoor sidewalk haunt?

Beverley Leslie – Every time this pint sized, pseudo straight thorn in Karen’s side stopped by, we laughed. Guest star Leslie Jordan breathed new life into the show, from crashing Karen’s wedding (he wanted to dance back-up for JLo) to going head to head with her at a gay auction.

Karen Walker, porn star – We never got to see the video, but those sounds of a seasoned pro pouring out of the TV set speakers sure did paint a pretty clear picture.

One busted bra – Flat-chested fag hags everywhere rejoiced when Grace, coming to the discovery that her new crush only liked her for her incredibly large busom, shot the water from he bra all over every painting in the bastard’s gallery.

Grace and the Pushy Lesbian – Almost as funny is when Grace, attempting to get the upper hand against a pair of lesbian real estate moguls (Edie Falco, Chloe Sevigny), gives in to Falco’s ways, coming dangerously close to a lesbian encounter.

A Thanksgiving to Remember – Jack livid with his stepfather who he’s convinced hates him for being gay; Grace and her impossibly Jewish family; Stan in jail; Will attempting to make peace with drunken, disowned mom (Blythe Danner). All while Rosario sits at home and picks away at the turkey.

The Will and Grace finale airs on NBC tonight at 8pm

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