Say it ain’t so, Will and Grace.
I never bought the hype that Will & Grace was an important TV series that changed society’s view of gay people, but as a social conservative I found the weekly misadventures of the four slow-to-mature New Yorkers a guilty pleasure. That’s because the show was funny, with sharp jokes and two members of the cast—not the principals—who had enormous comedic gifts.
While the four characters of the ensemble—Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes—have aged well during the show’s eleven-year hiatus, it appears from the first installment of the re-launch that neither the writers nor the cast of Will & Grace have what it takes to be funny in the Age of Trump.
Part of this is laziness. In the first episode, tasked with redecorating the Oval Office (a commission a New York decorator such as Grace Adler probably would not have undertaken, but necessary for the feeble plot line of the show) Grace pulls out a bag of Cheetos to get the decor right for the occupant’s skin tone.
Why weren’t we laughing? The Trump-Cheetos joke should have been at least mildly funny and it was… last year. Google Trump and Cheetos, and more than a million entries pop up. No less a cutting edge wit than Glenn Beck made this joke when he smeared his face with Cheetos crumbs to mock President Trump a year ago.
Recycled Glenn Beck jokes? Perhaps the powers-that-be should reconsider the decision not to use canned laughter on the revived Will & Grace. The show was so Trump-centric that it was set in the White House rather than the iconic New York apartment familiar to Will & Grace fans of old. People magazine actually published a list of all the anti-Trump jokes in the first show. Will is in the Rose Garden, where he is flirting with a Republican congressman, but he is appalled when he finds that Grace is re-decorating the Oval Office. A pillow fight between Will and Grace in the Oval Office ensues. Oh, and Jack kisses a Secret Serviceman on the lips, which seems positively quaint in our Neronian era.
It is worth noting that the show’s revival grew out of the cast’s brief reunion during the past election to cut a political ad for Hillary Clinton. The unfortunate thing is that the Hillary ad was a lot funnier than the revived show. I laughed when, in the ad, Karen Walker (played by Mullally), the show’s booze-addled one-percenter, bragged that she had sent Rosario, her long-suffering maid, to college, only to have Will point out that it was Trump University to study dusting. Jack, whose swishy antics are a soupcon less hilarious a decade on, is an undecided voter. Politically dim Grace argues that Hillary is qualified to be president because she has served as secretary of defense. Jack, who for some reason is registered in the swing state of Pennsylvania, is at last persuaded to vote for Hillary when Will informs him that Katy Perry is with Hillary. (And this was a pro-Hillary ad!)
The political ad, made in those halcyon days when people like Will and Grace and their creators believed that Hillary would be president, may have been their last gasp at being funny, unless things improve in subsequent installments of the rebooted show. The Trump administration, which might have been expected to be God’s gift to comedy, has instead been comedy’s death. Will & Grace is not unique in losing its sense of humor because of Donald Trump. Kathy Griffin has never been my idea of funny, but surely even she should have known that there is no joke hiding in merely posing with a mock bloodied severed head that looks like the president. Stephen Colbert makes heavy handed remarks about the president and Vladimir Putin and genitals with nary a hint of humor.
Comedy writers and comedians seem to have dispensed with the joke altogether, content instead to repeat over and over how much they dislike Trump, certain that this will resonate with like-minded people. Hatred, by the way, doesn’t necessarily kill satire; quite the contrary. But intellectual laziness is fatal. Stephen Colbert himself intuitively recognized this when he commented at the recent and resoundingly unfunny Emmy presentations, a glutton’s feast of anti-Trump jokes, that it was all too easy to get laughs by mocking the president in a room full of celebrities. This perception did not prevent Colbert himself from telling whiskered Trump jokes, of course.
On the revived Will & Grace even the once supremely hilarious Karen Walker, who is portrayed as a friend of “Donny” Trump and credits herself with helping him “pick” Melania, is not funny. Karen, who arranged Grace’s Oval Office decorating gig, plops on a sofa with her feet under her a la Kellyanne Conway, who was pilloried for doing the same thing back in February. Apparently, our masters of comedy are still laughing about it, which is a heck of a lot easier than coming up with some fresh jokes.
One of Karen’s “jokes” deserves special mention. “The first time I was in this office,” Karen tells Grace, “Nancy and I were chasing Ronnie around that desk… Trying to get some protein into the ol’ Gipper. We used to put a scoop of tuna fish in an ice cream cone and tell him it was mint chip.” This was lost on me until I read the next day that it was an apparent reference to President Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Disease. How clever.
In addition to having given up on trying to be funny, America’s comedy writers have written off half the country, who are apparently so deplorable that we deserve to be the butt of their jokes. F. H. Buckley wrote a marvelous article some time ago headlined “Redneck Porn,” in which he explored the elite’s nastiness about the less affluent classes, specifically the supposedly benighted poor people who voted for Trump. In the past, Americans had sympathy for poor people, but no longer.
The best example of this in the revived Will & Grace comes when Will sees Michelle Obama’s former vegetable garden. “Look,” he says, “there’s the vegetable garden where Michelle Obama introduced broccoli to the Midwest.” How stupid and snobbish. Do jerks like the formally likable Will really believe people in flyover country don’t eat broccoli?
In the end, of course, Will and Grace come to their senses and head back to the New York’s Upper West Side, where they belong (and where the one endearing joke in the whole episode takes place—Grace volunteers to move out and when Will dissuades her and carries her suitcase into her bedroom, it’s empty—sort of sweet). Before leaving the White House, Grace, the gal who thought Hillary was secretary of defense, makes a political statement—she leaves behind, hanging on the presidential chair, a red cap that reads “Make America Gay Again.”
As for me, I’d settle for making American sit-coms funny again.