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NBC presents
Will & Grace: Season Two (1999-2000)

Jack: "Running late" is gay for "I'm blowing you off."
Will: Really? What's gay for "get out?"
Jack: That would be "good morning."
Will: Good morning, Jack.

- Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: May 13, 2004

Stars: Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, Sean Hayes
Other Stars: Gregory Hines, Debbie Reynolds, Al Roker, Molly Shannon
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual humor and dialogue)
Run Time: Approx. 500 min.
Release Date: March 23, 2004
UPC: 031398121046
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I probably don't need to explain what Will & Grace is about; the show has been a hit since it debuted, and despite sliding ratings and critical malaise, its still going strong in its sixth season and in daily repeats. Even if you haven't seen it, you probably read about it when it launched: the first successful sit-com to prominently feature homosexual characters.

Title buddies Will (Eric McCormack) ampersand Grace (Debra Messing) were originally conceived as wacky neighbor characters in a different show, the gay man/straight best friend couple that lives together and acts married. Grace, an interior designer, has been Will's closest friend since college, where she fell in love with him before he came out of the closet. Will, a lawyer, is gay, but he never, ever gets to kiss a guy or date onscreen, because ew! Or so it would seem. The show isn't exactly subtle about the way it handles homosexual issues, after all, so a realistic portrayal is out of the question.

Which brings us to exhibit B, Jack (Sean Hayes), Will's best gay friend and flaming queen. Jack lives across the hall and talks about bringing home a different man every week and can't remember his sex partners' names, but he's rarely shown being affectionate with another man onscreen, either. Karen (Megan Mullally) is Jack's best friend, because she's just as shallow as he is. She's Grace's assistant, but she isn't paid because she doesn't do anything, she just comes into work and takes prescription drugs with vodka chasers. And she's married to a millionaire, so she doesn't exactly need the money.

The show caught the wave of media attention following Ellen's much publicized on-air coming out party and became a freshman year success. Critics championed its appealing cast and concept and, in its debut year, it earned fair ratings and more than its share of Emmys. Much has been written about the social relevance of the series, the first truly successful, mass-market TV show about gays, aimed at a general audience. In these days of Queer as Folk, The L Word, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Boy Meets Boy, it's obvious that gay programming has broken through the "glass screen" and become a television mainstay. But mere innovation doesn't make a show great, and perhaps Will & Grace seemed so fresh in those early seasons because there hadn't really been a show like it before. The passage of time has revealed the once barrier-breaking series to be little more than an average, muddled sit-com, no better or worse than middle-of-the-road fare like Just Shoot Me. The characters are so thinly drawn—particularly Jack and Karen, but Will and Grace themselves, too—that the writers can't help but go back to the same jokes over and over. Sure, every series has running gags (Joey likes food, George is getting angry), but they're usually a little more impressive than, say, Karen's constant drunkenness, or her critiques of Grace's wardrobe. Even the progressive premise seems like kind of a cop-out (witness Will's aforementioned general chastity). It's about a gay lifestyle, but filtered through the straight community's perception of what that lifestyle should be like.

That's not to say that there aren't some funny moments—Karen and Jack's shallow self-absorption is part of the joke, after all—but that kind of material doesn't make a lasting impression. Shows like Friends gain iconic status because they are about more than punch lines (the Ross and Rachel or Chandler and Monica romances). Here, there is little more than the bitchy arguments between Will and Jack or Grace and Karen. The producers try to build up the title duo's co-dependency and mutual immaturity as a great friendship, but, whether its due to the material or the actors, I just don't find them all that appealing anymore. I've liked both Debra Messing and Eric McCormack in other roles, so I think it's the former.

And though, as I've said, their characters are shrill and one-note, Karen and Jack do provide the only moments of comedy, primarily because their characters consist of a few easy to manage traits, like, for example, self-centered bitchiness. Megan Mullally is a very funny performer, and she gives herself over totally to her shallow character. It's a shame she doesn't get more to play with; her talents are sorely underused. Sean Hayes, the series' early breakout star, is also an exuberant comedic talent, but sometimes it feels like he is undercutting the positive, pro-homo message of the show. Watching Hayes (who has won Emmys for playing Jack) mincing around in an exaggerated send-up of queer clichés brings to mind Spike Lee's Bamboozled—yes, it's a positive thing that a minority population has been given such a visible platform, but what good is it doing? Many Americans, I'd wager, laugh at Jack for being gay as much as they laugh with him for acting like a queen.

What's surprising to me is, I used to really like this show. I thought Jack and Karen were hilarious, I cared about Will and Grace, and I thought the gay jokes were funny, sometimes shocking. Years later, though, the premise is no longer so novel, and the characters have worn thin. I stopped watching years ago when I thought the show was going downhill. Now it looks like it never had that far to slide.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Will & Grace, like most recent television shows, looks fairly good on DVD. The bright color palette is well served by a sharp image that shows fairly good detail. There aren't any significant problems like graininess, edge enhancement or digital artifacting either.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono

Audio Transfer Review: This standard stereo track serves the material well, but it seems like a 2.0 track would be warranted for such a recent series. On the plus side, dialogue is always crisp and clear, and balanced well with the typically sunny sit-com score. The mains handle the entirety of the track with occasionally effective directionality.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
12 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: What extras? Because the repurposed episodes clips edited into "themed featurettes" certainly don't count in my book. If they do in yours, there are four of them on each disc, each a few minutes long.

Note the materials promised in the original press release (including commentaries and bloopers) are not present and the packaging misstates which episodes are included on which disc; someone dropped the ball on this one.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

As sit-coms go, Will & Grace is only slightly above average, and certainly not one for the ages. Watching these episodes a scant four years after they originally aired, I'm shocked at how dated they have become and how much the thin characters have worn out their welcome. As a former fan that only liked the show less on DVD (and was none to impressed with NBC's shoddy excuse for bonus material), I can only recommend watching the reruns instead.


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