Posted by Sarah
Will & Grace was never just a TV show to me, and it’s impossible to put into words how much it has meant to me over the years. It was my first positive exposure to gay representation. (I was born and raised in the suburban part of Amish Country, Pennsylvania…seeing that was a big deal.) It gave me something to laugh about during some of the worst times of my life. It was my first taste of fandom life, and that fandom was the first time I felt like I found my tribe. I made friends that became like family (in fact, two of my friends who met and fell in love because of the fandom eloped in Central Park this past March, and I was honored to be their witness), all because of four friends living and loving in Manhattan every Must-See Thursday night. The fact that the show was ridiculously funny is just a bonus. So when it ended in 2006, I was heartbroken but so thankful for everything it had given me. Since the series finale, I’ve followed the main cast pretty much wherever they went, from miniseries to stints hosting daytime TV to Broadway plays and, oh, Eric McCormack’s in a sci-fi thing now? Let’s watch all of that (it’s really great, by the way)! I always love it when there’s a mini reunion on one of their projects, but I never expected all four of them to be back on-screen together again.
But then, in September, the photos started appearing. The cast had taken to Twitter and Instagram to post pictures of what at first seemed like an innocuous little get-together. But as the get-together went on, the setting looked…oddly familiar. Like apartment 9C, Jack McFarland’s going to burst in any minute familiar. After letting me spiral into “WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!” territory for a few days, “Vote Honey” was bestowed unto us, that glorious ten-minute reunion that could. It quickly went viral, leading to constant buzz about a potential Will & Grace revival. And between Megan Mullally and Leslie Jordan getting my hopes WAY up, and Debra Messing and Eric McCormack warning everyone to slow their rolls, I was almost resigned to staying in “ARE THEY COMING BACK OR NOT?!” territory for the foreseeable future. That is, until NBC’s big announcement in January.
THEY’RE COMING BACK FOR REAL, YOU GUYS.
Ten new episodes of Will & Grace are coming our way next season! And while the smallest part of me is a little nervous about it—there IS a way to get around that last episode, right?—as Rosario said when Jack caught her in bed with Karen’s gardener, “The heart wants what it wants.” And my heart wants more. So now that we’re getting a ninth season (I can’t believe I get to say that), I thought it would be fun to take a trip back to Riverside Drive and look back on some of my all-time favorite episodes of the first eight years. I’ve compiled my top 20 (pared down from an original list of 70 episodes…why is this show so good?) to share with you, the episodes that I think highlight the brilliance of this series. Some are no-brainers, and some might surprise you. Some are hilarious throughout, and some of them get very real. But combined, this showcases some of the series’ best jokes, the true depth of each character, and an amazing ability to tell a story.
This is Will & Grace as I know and love it.
20.) Forbidden Fruit (8 x 12)
My only rule going into this was that the A-story and the B-story of any given episode had to be consistent in quality in order to be considered for top 20. Well…I already broke my rule with this one. Which is not to say that Will and Grace’s story isn’t good; in fact, I find it pretty entertaining. Inspired by Will working for the Coalition for Justice, Grace decides to volunteer to design a retirement home. That is, until Will’s old boss Margot (hi, Lily Tomlin!) offers her an unlimited budget to redesign the law firm. She secretly begins work for Margot so as not to look bad to Will, completely unaware that Will quit the Coalition in favor of his old job. It leads to some good laughs as they try to keep their secrets while Margot conspires to make them find each other out, and Lily Tomlin kills every line she has with that hilarious deadpan (“Hector, I’ve only got five minutes before I have to get back to the office. I want what I had yesterday. I don’t remember what it was, and you weren’t working, but I want it anyway.”). But this is not why we’re here.
Cards on the table: if an episode gives me a moment where Karen shows emotional depth, it automatically becomes one of my favorites. It’s part of the reason she’s my favorite character on the show; 95% of the time she’s over the top, doesn’t fully know what boundaries are, and her past is so vague that it’s actually fun to count the ways that her crazy personal stories contradict each other. But it’s that other five percent that shows you that she’s human, that things affect her, that despite her assertions to the contrary, she can feel. Let me just warn you now, this is going to come up a lot during this list, to the point where I kind of want to keep a tally throughout, just to see how invested I am in the sad parts of comedy. And by “kind of want to,” I mean I’m totally doing it, so without further ado…
Karen Walker Feels Things! Tally: 1
The story starts out fun enough; Jack is under the weather, prompting Karen to invite him to stay at the manse so she can take care of him. While I would have watched the crap out of a run-of-the-mill Jack/Karen slumber party (you know you would have, too), it takes a turn when Jack keeps prodding Karen to let him inside what she deems “The forbidden room.” He even tries to get Rosario to spill the goods, to no avail. A few moments of great physical comedy and a broken forbidden doorknob later, Jack stumbles into a fully furnished nursery, where things get incredibly real. This episode breaks you in doses during its third act. It starts with the reveal of the nursery itself, because if you know the show inside and out, you remember the false alarm during season one’s “The Unsinkable Mommy Adler.” Then Karen talks about the thought of her child playing with her makeup, and you start to feel your heart ache. And somewhere in the middle of her lamentations that she wouldn’t be a good mother even though she’s gone all maternal on Jack, it hits you: that false alarm was seven years ago. She’s had this room for SEVEN YEARS, never going inside, never getting rid of what might have been, never fully getting over it. You got a sense of her disappointment during “The Unsinkable Mommy Adler,” but it wasn’t explored much until this episode, and even then, you can see her trying to save face with Jack in the room. She thanks him for allowing her to let go, gives him a smile as he says that she should keep the room for a little while longer. It’s almost as if everything is going to go back to normal…until she takes one last look at the room in a moment that has been etched in my mind ever since it first aired.
There goes Megan Mullally, shattering the hell out of my heart.
Jack: Wow. So dramatic. The forbidden room. Reminds me of my nickname at camp: Forbidden Fruit. Unless I was in a sleeping bag. Then it was Fruit Roll-Up.
19.) Dolls and Dolls (5 x 21)
What would Valley of the Dolls look like if it was set in 2003, only lasted three days, and had very minimal stakes? It would look like Will tripping over his clogs, spraining his ankle, and being prescribed painkillers to help him heal. It’s like if Neely O’Hara had zero competitive edge and neutral opinions on The King of Queens. A big part of the reason this episode made the list is because I find high Will so ridiculously entertaining. He’s the most chill he’s ever been, not letting anything phase him. He calls off work, spending his day in pajamas catching up on American Idol (I love his Paula Abdul comments; tell me Forever Your Girl isn’t a gem of an album, I dare you. You can’t). But when he suddenly needs a refill after only a couple of days, Grace knows she and Jack have to intervene. And the intervention is fantastic; I love that the thing that FINALLY gets through to Will is the realization that he called his mother back when he said he would. Maybe on a scale of one to Valley of the Dolls, it falls on the low end, but unless you wanted to turn this show into a melodrama, that’s where it had to be. Although, part of me is kind of curious to know what Will’s alley breakdown moment would have been.
Meanwhile, Karen decides she’s missing out on real life, and tries to fix that by getting a roommate (can we talk about the fact that Madonna is the one that’s supposed to show Karen how the middle-class lives? MADONNA). The over-the-top exaggerations on the knowledge Karen lacks work because she’s always been an over-the-top character. So of course she doesn’t know what a laundromat is, or how a soda can works. Of course she marvels at running errands and doesn’t know what the hell to do with a chore wheel. And for a little while, Karen and Liz bond over their independence (because, as we all know, “Guys just mess everything up…or get murdered”). It’s nuts how quickly the honeymoon phase ends, though; once they get into a pretty intense fight at the bar, Liz is all too ready to dump Karen as a roommate. When you think about it, this works perfectly with the storyline; Karen was simply looking for the experiences most people have, and having at least one shitty roommate story is basically a rite of passage (ask me about the roommate I had in the summer of 2014 sometime…I still rage about that one). Karen’s shitty roommate story, however, comes with some sweet, sweet vengeance; once she realizes she owns the building, she evicts Liz. “Dolls and Dolls” was great as a one-time story for Karen. It gets her outside of her comfort zone for the perfect amount of time before she ultimately pulls rank in the most glorious way.
Sometimes it helps to be the over-the-top one.
Will: Look! TiVo saved all the American Idols for me. I love Paula Abdul. And I love that we live in a world that would give a Paula Abdul a second chance.
18.) Will on Ice (1 x 11)
I don’t know why Will’s birthday makes for a great jumping off point for an episode, but it really does (it happens in another episode coming up…I’ll let you guess which one). Up until now, he’s had bad luck with birthdays, relaying a story about how he desperately wanted a cowboy party when he turned eight, only to have his mom throw him a clown party. Grace is determined to give him a birthday celebration he can look back on with joy. But come on, you guys, you know it’s not going to go smoothly.
See, Jack and Grace don’t get along the way Will hopes, so bringing everyone together for a birthday dinner is a situation in and of itself. Never fear, though! During a rousing game of “Love Her/Hate Him,” they have the best bonding moment over ice skating. Which is all fine and good, until their bonding leads to Champions on Ice the same night as Will’s birthday dinner. I love Will for agreeing to go to this thing when clearly he would rather be anywhere else, but sacrificing your birthday just plain sucks (Karen’s less than thrilled about the Champions on Ice detour as well; the moment she shouts “SKATE FASTER, WE HAVE RESERVATIONS!” is one of the moments you know she’s a queen). But his loss is our gain, because Jack and Grace have some of the best interactions in this episode that they will ever have in the series. I don’t know much about ice skating, but the giddy way they rave about it is so relatable for anyone who has ever loved something with all their heart and found someone who loves it just as much as they do; these two are basically embodying fandom life here. It’s insanely delightful, even if Will and Karen don’t get it, and it builds a stronger connection between the two that the series can play off of in later seasons. Jack going home with Rudy Galindo is just the icing on the cake.
Editor’s Note: For the record, it’s huge that Rudy Galindo made this appearance, especially since a) it happened in the first season, before the show could be confirmed as a mainstream hit and b) it’s heavily suggested that he’s going to go have sex with Jack. Galindo was the first openly gay U.S. figure skating champion and has discussed how being out affected the way the US Figure Skating Association treated him. Ironically, the USFSA does NOT have a reputation for being very accepting (just ask Johnny Weir!), so Galindo’s insistence on living and speaking his truth is not to be taken lightly. -Sage, a former figure skater who also loves this episode.
Speaking of cake: of course, Grace wants to make sure Will gets at least one thing he wants on his birthday. Once they come home, she pulls the long-coveted cowboy cake out of the fridge—”Happy birthday, partner”—to end the night on a high note. This is the kind of thing that makes Will and Grace’s relationship so wonderful, and so easy to get on board with. All either of them wants to do is make the other happy; it’s why Champions on Ice happened, and it’s why there’s a sheet cake with plastic cowboys stuck in it sitting on their dining room table. It’s a moment of pure love and friendship that makes your heart swell when you witness it. And isn’t that what this show is all about?
Grace: Oh my god! The best! Surya Bonaly!
Grace and Jack: Surya Bonaly!
Jack: She’s French.
Grace: She’s powerful.
Jack: She’s black.
Grace: She wears blue eyeshadow and does illegal backflips.
Jack: She scares me…I crave her.
17.) Von Trapped (8 x 10)
Even with all those references to The Sound of Music sing-a-long peppered throughout the series, I really wasn’t expecting them to make an episode out of it. But at the last minute, they came through, and it was everything I ever needed. Because you couldn’t simply have the gang go to this thing; the events had to emulate the plot of the movie in its own way. Grace, dressed as Maria, suddenly becomes the childcare service of the theater, watching over seven kids. (I love when Will finally makes it to the theater: “Wow. I didn’t realize your costume was going to be this elaborate.”) Karen’s the one to set off the events causing the theater to go on a manhunt for the group by throwing a flask off the balcony and hitting someone below. (Classic Karen, right?) Jack falls for Ralph, the concessions guy who ends up ratting them out to the theater. (He’s even wearing an armband with his uniform. Good job, wardrobe department!) Rosario, dressed as a nun, is the one to stow them away in the utility closet. The whole episode is so detailed and SO fulfilling if you know the movie. The dialogue plays off of movie references so often, but it never sounds forced; and while jokes are being made, it’s always in good spirit. It really is a loving tribute to The Sound of Music.
This episode is also extremely rude for introducing James (hi, Taye Diggs!) into the picture. Look, I love that Will ended up with Vince, because their dynamic was always so delightful to me. But I completely fell for the star-crossed lover storyline that started with “Von Trapped,” and I wanted it to work so much. They had chemistry that made for excellent TV. The fact that James wants to get to know Will despite his costume that is unsuitable for the 7:40 showing of Memoirs of a Geisha endeared me to him right away. And when he raced over to the other theater when his movie was done so he could see Will again? COME ON. It’s such a wonderful gesture, and it’s frustrating when they JUST miss each other. I was so happy when he popped up again in “I Love L. Gay,” because this episode made me root for them from the start. But savor these moments now, because in a few episodes, James becomes an upsetting dick who I’m pretty sure is part of the reason we can’t have nice things.
Grace (trying to comfort the children): Everyone gather around. You know what I do when I feel scared?
Jack: Fart a little and then deny it?
Grace: NO…Well, after that…