“11 Years Later”
Posted by Sarah
This is a place I never again thought I’d be. The place where I curl up on the couch with a bag of mint Milanos on a Must-See Thursday night. The place where my friends and I swap quotes and laugh our asses off. The place where I get to hang out with my favorite foursome and go on a completely new adventure with them. The place where all of that can happen on a weekly basis. But here I am. And here you are. It’s starting all over again, and I could not be more thrilled. And I could not be more relieved that after all these years, it still feels like home. The return of Will & Grace is finally here, and honey, the show is ON. POINT. I never fully realized how much I missed this show until I sat down and heard that opening music (no, of course I didn’t tear up when I heard it, you did, shut up, okay? *wipes away tears*). We’ve got a brand new story, and my heart is so full, so let’s break down “11 Years Later,” shall we?
First thing’s first: let’s talk about that retcon.
Honestly, this was the only thing I was still worried about leading up to the premiere. It could have gone so wrong, to the point where the show might not have bounced back (Bobby Ewing in the shower on Dallas, anyone?). And if I’m being real, I was a little nervous once I realized where this was going. We open on a classic game night, and just after Will and Grace kick ass during their round of Heads Up, they find that Karen has fallen asleep with her eyes open and her martini glass still perfectly propped in her hand (I love Will in this moment: “Wait, it could be a trap. A smaller Karen might shoot out of her mouth and bite your face off.”). Once she wakes up, Karen regales the group about her crazy dream, complete with sharing apartments with cops, marriages to doctors, and kids who grew up to marry each other. Will and Grace bring her back to reality; yes, they were living with cops and married to doctors, but that’s done now, Grace is “temporarily” back in apartment 9C, and there certainly aren’t any kids to speak of. And by the way, Karen, you’re still rich and Stan is still alive. All will be as it was.
Considering all the ways in which this could have been a disaster, I think this worked really well. If it was going to be anyone’s dream, it HAD to be Karen in order for it to make sense. It had to be the woman who gives the doctor the catalogue from Merck Pharmaceuticals when he asks if she’s taking any medication and who at one point thought her name was Carol Texas Ranger. And instead of just accepting it as her dream and moving on, they really went that extra mile and commented on it during the entire segment (“Nobody wants to see you two raise kids.” “Yeah, I mean what would be funny about that?”). But the absolute best part of all of this is Jack not only breaking the fourth wall, but also getting an adorbs Grindr profile pic out of it in the process:
Got it, I’m satisfied, crisis averted, now on with the show.
What we get out of “11 Years Later” is a classic storyline between Will and Grace, where each of them are doing something that’s likely to elicit disdain from the other, so of course they’re going to keep it hidden. But unlike the traditional storylines of hiding unusual boyfriends and the like, this one has a political edge to it that dominates the episode. Also a pleasant surprise is the fact that we got mini plots for the out-of-norm pairings, and you all know how much I love those. Grace sees Will writing to Steve Sandoval, a congressman whose views are the direct opposite of the ones they both have, and assumes he’s writing yet another angry letter. It makes her proud of Will, yes, but it also makes her look at her lack of action recently: “Now I use my pussy hat to sneak candy into the movies.” Inspired by Will’s apparent efforts—and almost certainly prompted by Karen’s friendship with Trump (are we really surprised by this? Of course not) and subsequent voicemail saying she included Grace’s name on Trump’s birthday card—Grace decides that action starts close to home, and vows to confront Karen and the socialite’s constant gloating over the election. Enter Jack with an adorable request for French toast, and exit Grace, proud of her best friend for standing up for what he believes in.
Yeah…all those angry protest letters? It’s just a bunch of flirting. Turns out, despite the fact that Sandoval’s voting record is abhorrent, Will just wants to “hook up with a power gay,” or pull an Anderson Cooper. And just before Will’s second thoughts and worries about hypocrisy have the chance to sink in (maybe they should have sunk in?), Jack discovers that Sandoval is addressing the energy caucus in the Rose Garden, and books a trip to D.C. for the both of them. In order for this storyline to work, it was imperative for Will to be paired up with Jack for a little bit, so this was a great move. Will is in no way impulsive enough to book a train to try to get into Sandoval’s speech. Jack, however, likes to do things without thinking them through, and he does them with literally all of the enthusiasm. Will needed that push from him…and by push, I mean making all the plans without giving Will even the smallest chance to respond.
Meanwhile, once she gets to the office, Grace is fully determined to put her foot down with Karen, and tries to start a serious conversation with her about politics in the workplace. But come on, you KNEW that was never going to happen; we’re talking about Karen Walker, after all. She sees the stern look in Grace’s eyes and immediately starts grabbing her boobs (PS, I lost it at the “Sugar Ray speed bag.” God, I missed you so much, Karen, never leave me again) before letting her boss know that she managed to get Grace Adler Designs a gig redecorating the Oval Office. Of course, Grace initially sees it as a moral dilemma; this is a huge opportunity for her company, but with this administration? That would make her a hypocrite, wouldn’t it? But, since Karen already booked the train, Grace takes the job. This episode is definitely borrowing from what the original series had established in Grace’s character; sometimes, she dabbles in the moral gray areas. And Karen? Karen will do whatever the hell she wants and expect you to be on board with it. So again, this is a perfect match for this episode. Now the girls have their tickets, the guys have theirs, and they’re all on their way to our nation’s capital free from any suspicion.
What could possibly go wrong? Only everything, sitcom style.
Will and Jack get to D.C. and into Sandoval’s speech thanks to Jack’s connection at the Secret Service, Lenny (aka Cupcake Daddy, and I am low-key obsessed with him. I wish there was some way to get him in more episodes, but how often are they going to be at the White House?), while Grace and Karen are in the Oval Office ready to redecorate. The jokes throughout the D.C. act are solid for the most part. I absolutely loved the timing of Grace marveling at how many important, history-shaping things took place in the Oval Office before opening up that box on 45’s desk, revealing a Russian/English dictionary and a fidget spinner. The Cheetos sight gag wasn’t anything revolutionary, but it still got a laugh out of me. And Kate Micucci’s Page was phenomenal: “Rules don’t mean anything in this place anymore.” But then Grace accidentally spies on Will and Sandoval through the Oval Office window, and Will double takes when he sees Grace staring at him from inside the White House. And all hell is about to break loose.
Once Will makes it to the Oval Office, the fight that ensues is classic Will and Grace. They start out on the flippant side before moving into calling each other out with snark until they finally get down to the bigger issues at hand. Grace feels betrayed by Will because she thought he was active in the resistance, while Will criticizes Grace because he believes that taking this design gig is a “tacit endorsement” of the administration (which…can you blame him?). Each of them thinks that the other is more at fault. And because the fight is forcing Will to look at his recent choices, he changes the subject, saying that he can’t do the whole “up in each other’s stuff” thing again, that he can’t live with her crazy again. He’s clearly projecting, and I know he’s swept up in the moment, but he obviously knows better than this. He knows that that’s not how their relationship works. But he’s on the defensive. And in that moment, Grace, thankfully, is having none of it.
So where are Jack and Karen in all of this? They’re definitely the catalysts for the bigger Will/Grace plotline here, taking a backseat this episode. I’m sure they’ll have larger roles in upcoming episodes (I mean, Michael Angarano is coming back as Elliot and Minnie Driver is coming back as Lorraine, so clearly they’ll have stories), but part of me hoped for a bit of a bigger presence. I can’t complain, though; they made the most out of the time they got (see the above Sugar Ray speed bag). I mean, just look at Jack catching Lenny up on his life:
Back in New York, Grace has her suitcase by the door, ready to move out when Will walks in. He stops her for the inevitable heart to heart, explaining the reason he kept his flirtmance with Sandoval a secret: he didn’t want Grace to think less of him for his dalliance with the other side (which is, of course, why Grace kept her design job a secret from Will). And in successfully convincing Grace to stay, he gets them to the heart of their relationship:
Will: I like you thinking I’m a better person than I really am, because it makes me want to be a better person.
Grace: And your judginess keeps me from doing some of the crazy things I want to do.
Will: So stay. And not just temporary. I mean as long as it makes sense. It’ll be different this time.
Grace: Will it?
Will: Yes! ‘Cause all the other times we’ve done this, we thought it would be different, but this time we know it’s gonna be exactly the same. And that’s what makes it different.
Will and Grace’s conversation here is beautiful, because it’s a big part of their dynamic boiled down to a few lines. Yes, to each other, they’re that person who knows everything about the other, who makes it okay for them to be their true selves. But they’re also the one to make the other look deep inside themselves, to make the other strive to be better without sacrificing who they are at their core. They’re each other’s support system and solid ground when life takes a turn. It’s why Grace moved in with Will nineteen years ago when she broke up with Danny, and it’s why she’s staying now, post-divorce. They always come back to each other, because they have always been each other’s constant. Which is definitely for the best…Grace didn’t have anything in that suitcase, anyway.
Thus, we return to the normal Riverside Drive lifestyle the following morning, the four of them gathered together in 9C like it was eleven years ago, ready for the next adventure. But of course, as she revealed when Karen chastised her for blowing her big gig, Grace couldn’t leave D.C. without one slight, glorious alteration to the Oval Office:
Finally, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t address this, because I have seen a constant back and forth from viewers since the episode aired, ranging from thrilled to annoyed at the route the show took. YES, “11 Years Later” was political. But I am in no way surprised that the political part of the show was way more pronounced in this first episode than it usually is; in fact, I was expecting it. The show was ALWAYS quietly political, if for no other reason than the fact that it regularly showed happy, successful gay characters who were surrounded by people who loved them, and the world *gasp!* didn’t end in hellfire as a result. Will & Grace originally aired just on the heels of the backlash of Ellen’s “The Puppy Episode,” and before that, queerness was largely portrayed in Sitcom Land as a joke. The fact that the other shoe never dropped for them is incredible. I’m not saying the representation during the first run was flawless, because it wasn’t, but the fact that this representation was on the air for eight years was major. And it made the show inherently political. The first episode of the revival almost had to be a more in your face political version of Will & Grace to acknowledge that we’re picking up with this group in a time that is extremely different from the one we left them in. This was their time to say, “We know, we see it too, and we’re not ignoring it,” before giving us more of the show we know and love. Grace even commented on it at the end of the episode after Karen says that she and Will get preachy when they talk about politics: “We should just be what we’ve always been.” (They really went for the meta in this episode, didn’t they?) And I know they’re going to be what they’ve always been. The main goal of the show has always been to make people laugh; the quietly political part wasn’t necessarily the priority. It’s just that, in these times, the volume needs to be turned up a little bit. Surely it won’t be like this all the time, because the original series wasn’t like this all the time. But the fact that Will & Grace can go there and still bring the laughs gives me so much hope for this upcoming season.
Long story short: they’re back, kids. And it’s about damn time.
Honey…What’s This? What’s Happening? What’s Going On?
- We got a Will and Grace game night in “11 Years Later,” just like we did in the original pilot 19 years ago. And it was just as delightful.
- They updated the theme song and I absolutely love it. What I love even more is the fact that Sean Hayes’ husband, Scott Icenogle, had a hand in it.
- The picture of Grace and Bobbi on the bookshelf behind the couch warms my heart and breaks it all at once.
- “What can I do that’s low effort, high impact?” “Fart in an elevator.”
- GRACE EXPANDED HER BUSINESS. Remember season four’s “Stakin’ Care of Business,” where Grace wants a business loan from Karen in order to build on Grace Adler Designs, but Karen turned her down in an effort to look out for her and the company? Almost sixteen years later, she’s got a new employee (hi, Anthony Ramos!) and an office that says “Madame President” on the door. MADAME PRESIDENT. Grace finally expanded the pizza parlor, and I am so proud.
- “That’s where Joe Biden and Barack Obama used to hold hands and talk about their dreams.” Remember simpler times? I miss them.
- Karen sitting on the couch in the Oval Office like Kellyanne Conway was a particularly nice touch. Also, I really need to know everything there is to know about her relationships with the Republican presidents.
- Karen’s still humming the same song after all these years (“La ba da, bee ba da…”) and arbitrarily using her alias, Anastasia Beaverhausen. Grace is still using that exaggerated “Whoa.” Will and Grace still have that victory handshake. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- Can’t get enough Will & Grace? For the first few weeks of the season, there’s an after show released on the NBC app, Hulu and YouTube every Friday morning! Needless to say, I am so here for it.
What did you think of “11 Years Later?” How do you think this season is going to play out? Let’s talk in the comments!
Featured Image Source: NBC