Readers, we’re in hiatus mode. You would think that with the countdown to season two of the Will & Grace revival underway, I would use this time off from recapping to experience new and exciting things. Maybe I could finally make my way through one of the million shows my friends have recommended to me that I keep forgetting about, and I can finally get them to stop looking at me like that whenever I tell them I still haven’t watched. I could take in a couple of movies, dive into some completely new storytelling. Maybe I could go outside and enjoy nature, see the flowers blooming, hear the birds singing, feel the sun shining down on me. Those sound like very nice ways to pass the time.
Yeah, I’m not going to do that.
I’m going to do what I’ve always done: sit myself down on the couch and analyze the hell out of my favorite TV show. And let me tell you, eighteen years of watching Will & Grace has led to some extremely strong beliefs. I believe that Will and Karen are the unsung brOTP of this show, but you already knew that. I believe that there are times when they make it insanely easy to ship Grace and Karen, and if you don’t believe me, I can give you my comprehensive list of moments that prove my point. I believe that Jack is a far deeper character than most people give him credit for; just look at “Grandpa Jack” if you don’t buy it. But most importantly, I believe that in the grand scheme of Grace’s love interests, Nathan was and forever will be better than that horse guy…I’m sorry, what’s his name again, Will?
Look. I’m sure Harry Connick, Jr. is a fine, upstanding gentleman. He seems like a nice dude, and I wish him well in his endeavors. It’s just that every time Leo Markus pops up, I see all the ways in which he is a wildly terrible life partner. Which is why, when he came back for the revival and everyone was shouting “COUPLE GOALS,” I took a decidedly more Grace Adler-y approach to my reaction:
I’m sorry, but did we watch the same show? Are we just going to ignore all of the questionable things he did? I’m not even trying to pretend like I always felt his way; I will concede to the fact that during the first run, I didn’t even notice how hard he sucks. I don’t know if it was the hope that this relationship that caused the worst rift in Will and Grace’s history was actually worth it that blinded me, but if I hadn’t watched the series 30 million more times before the revival, I daresay I might even have been team COUPLE GOALS. But now, we’ve had eleven years to sit with the evidence. We have officially run out of excuses to let this shit slide.
Was Nathan perfect? Of course not. When he was introduced, he was crude, rough around the edges, and thought that Megadeth and papier-mâché alone could win hearts. But in just seven short episodes, he made his case better than Leo ever could over multiple seasons and a quick “Hi, remember me?” three episodes into the revival (yes, we remember you, sit your ass down, Marvin). Nathan was able to get every single one of the Fab Four on board with him in no time at all. But Leo? He lied, he cheated, he lied about cheating…oh yeah, and he completely jeopardized the friendship this whole show is named for (technically twice, but he’s damn lucky that the series finale is canceled). I’ve touched on this a few times throughout my tenure as HOF’s Will & Grace correspondent, and I’ve had this debate more times than I can count, but I haven’t had the space to truly let it all out. Until now.
Let’s put this matter to bed once and for all.
THE CASE FOR NATHAN
Call him crunchy, call him bootylicious, call him a hottie who smells like rope, call him whatever you want. Nathan was a fun and refreshing addition to the Will & Grace universe. Sure, when he first appeared, he was a little questionable. He’d do things like take Grace’s wet laundry out of the dryer and replace it with his own, and use boxers in lieu of Post-Its to get her up to his apartment. But in spite of all of that, Grace couldn’t help but be intrigued by him. Between used nights in Venice and Veggie Weggie subs at the Pig and Whistle, she just couldn’t quit this guy. And you know what? He turned out to be pretty damn wonderful for her. You know…until the proposal incident.
He took Grace out of her comfort zone in the best way.
Grace: I think I just had this idea that this was all supposed to go a certain way, or maybe we weren’t ready. But what I realized is that the part of me that’s been telling me those things is the exact part that you make me feel like I don’t wanna listen to anymore.
I know she’s talking about the situation in the episode, but it could really be applied to their entire relationship. He affected her in a way that no one else could. When she first met him, when she was still annoyed by the fact that someone had taken her wet laundry out of the dryer, when she was dating him in secret because she was embarrassed to tell Will about it, the way she thought it was all supposed to go was immediately thrown out the window. And it was thrown out the window for the better. I don’t think it was a coincidence that things got serious so quickly with the guy who was different. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the one who made her take life a little less seriously made the biggest impact. The things that initially embarrassed Grace soon became the things she embraced the most. It’s the main reason Nathan was always my favorite. After all, who doesn’t want to be around someone who makes life a fun and exciting adventure?
He made an effort to adapt to her life.
Dating one of our title characters is an interesting predicament, because when you want one of them in your life, you essentially get other one by default as well. Will and Grace are so close that it can sometimes be intimidating to try to find a place in that connection that fits. But Nathan wasn’t deterred. When Will’s return from Paris turns him into the third wheel for a hot second, he makes it known that he wants to go to the Barney’s sale with Grace, and take part in one of her long-standing traditions with her. And even after he’s been warned–“Have you seen Grace around marked-down cashmere? It’s like the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan.”–he’s still set on experiencing this with his girlfriend. Little does he know that Will was not exaggerating about the marked-down cashmere. Despite his best efforts, Nathan’s drowning in discounted dresses and requests for fashion advice he really doesn’t know how to give. And when he realizes that this trip might do more harm for their relationship than good, he taps out. But it’s fine; once the chaos has settled, it seems as though Will, Grace and Nathan have found a balance that works for them. Will and Grace get to sift through their bargains while Nathan settles in with Three Stooges reruns. Nathan spends the night with Grace with the promise of getting her back in time for her TODAY show routine with Will. It’s a win-win.
So maybe the Barney’s sale didn’t work out, but he really tried. That speaks volumes. He was serious about Grace and he knew how important Will is to her. The fact that he made an effort without wanting to completely upend the life she knew is amazing. And I’m sure the fact that he was basically living in 9C at the time was only an extremely small part of that.
He thought Grace’s love was the best gift he could ever get.
The first birthday with a new, serious partner is always big. You want to make it memorable, you want to make it perfect. And you certainly don’t want your wealthy socialite assistant completely upstaging you. So when you put your heart and soul into finding a signed first edition copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, of course said socialite assistant will one-up you by gifting him an actual motorcycle. Typical, right?
Grace: I love you. That’s my gift. It’s not very fast, it doesn’t require a helmet, but it’s pretty powerful and I hope you like it.
Everyone was on board with him, and Grace was in love after like two weeks.
This is, without a doubt, one of the biggest checkmarks in the pro-Nathan column. I’m not saying it wasn’t a process. But by the end of season three, every single one of the Fab Four loved him in their own way…which is more than I can say for a certain no-good-do-good husband of Grace’s. Let’s take it back to the beginning, when Nathan was still painted as the crude guy that Grace was dating on the sly. All of the things that he had going against him at the beginning of his run were the things that endeared Karen to him the second she met him in the elevator. Even before she knew he was dating Grace, she was intrigued by him:
Well, great! Everyone’s happy, so it’s all smooth sailing from here, right? Nope. Because once Grace realizes how well things are going, once she realizes how Nathan truly feels about her, she starts freaking out. She gets one hint that Nathan’s about to tell her he loves her, and it scares her, because she knows her life is about to change. And by the time she books a trip to Morocco to avoid the fact that she and Nathan are getting serious, Will is there to call her on her bullshit. All of the things that he once hated about Nathan, he now uses as reasons for Grace to see where this relationship takes her:
Grace: He’s weird!
Will: He’s interesting.
Grace: He’s childish.
Will: He’s fun.
Grace: He’s aimless.
Will: He could change your life.
Grace: That’s what I’m afraid of!
Will: Yeah, but why?
The way that Will is so willing to go to bat for Nathan is amazing, considering how he was 100% annoyed by Nathan’s existence a mere two weeks ago. Will sees the way Nathan cares about Grace, recognizes the good intentions he has towards their group, and refuses to let Grace use their friendship as an excuse to end a really great thing (Can we remember that Will never wants to be the one that holds Grace back when we get to the point in “Emergency Contact” where Leo initially blames Will for his second marriage to Grace failing? Because I feel like we should really remember that). He makes her see that she’s in love with the guy. He makes her realize that she needs to stop running from what could very well be the best thing in her life, that Nathan might be the one. That turnaround on Will’s part was simply amazing. Grace was happy. Nathan was happy. They truly went for it in a way that was so satisfying. Everybody was rooting for them to make it.
Which made it that much harder to accept when they didn’t.
About that ending…
The only reason I can think of that would make them want to put an end to Grace and Nathan is that marriage would have changed the dynamic between Will and Grace (which, of course, happened after Grace married Leo). But, if any of Grace’s boyfriends would have changed their dynamic the least by marrying her, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NATHAN. It wasn’t just that they struck a balance between her life with Will and her life with Nathan. It wasn’t just that everyone Grace was closest to liked him and he found a comfortable place within that friend group. There was that added bonus of Nathan living in the exact same building they did. Part of the reason Will and Grace initially lost their “Homojo” was that when Grace moved out, she moved to Brooklyn. Instead of the zero effort it originally took to have in-depth discussions about overzealous bikini waxes and whether or not Will’s off dairy, they had to work to keep their dynamic. I just don’t think it would have happened with Nathan, at least not to such a drastic extent. It could have been so good…we could have had it all.
THE CASE AGAINST LEO
Kids, this is what happens when a show whose dynamic is not about babies suddenly becomes about babies, and they need an out. A really, really obvious out. There was absolutely no subtlety when they introduced Leo into the Will & Grace universe. He was put on this Prince Charming pedestal from the get go. The guy literally rode into Grace’s life on a fucking white horse, set up to be her perfect guy, the one to make her question whether or not she wants to have a baby with Will. And Grace totally bought into it. Hell, I originally bought into it during the first run of this show. Spend some time studying his timeline, though, and you start to realize that this dude did not deserve the horse he rode in on. There are little things, there are big things. There are things that sneak up on you, and there are things that are glaringly obvious. But when you add them all up, you come to the conclusion that Grace deserved so much better.
At one point in the original run, she said that there was nothing to complain about when it came to Leo. And every time I get to that point in the series, I just want to go through the screen and ask her: Girl…are you sure? Because I have a list. You can have it if you want. It’s literally right here.
He wouldn’t stop bothering Grace after she turned him down.
I completely understand wanting to quash the baby storyline. There is no way that road would have led to anywhere fun. We’re just not off to a good start here. Like I said earlier, Nathan wasn’t the perfect guy when he was first introduced. But he wasn’t pursuing Grace when they first met the way Leo was. Grace kept coming up to Nathan’s apartment out of a weird curiosity, but she did it of her own volition. Leo did things like sit down at Grace’s table at the coffee shop with no invitation and seek out her office and show up completely unannounced, trying to get her to go to dinner with him, and slipping his number into her wallet after she turns him down. It’s one of those things that, the more times I watch it, the less it sits well with me. I don’t know, maybe it would be different if Leo was different. But this also isn’t the first time Grace says no to something that Leo tries to get her to do anyway (just wait until we get to “The Needle and the Omelet’s Done”), and I think that’s what twists this into a negative for me. It’s a pattern. And it’s not a good one.
He thinks being smug is charming.
You know how sometimes people think they’re being funny and cute, but they’re really just being an asshole? That’s basically how Leo is all the time. As I was watching episodes in preparation for this post, I kept writing down something to the effect of “I hate this smug-ass guy” without context every time he showed this color, thinking that it would clearly jog my memory. The thing is, I wrote “I hate this smug-ass guy” so many times that I can’t keep track of what I was yelling at in the first place.
It happens EVERYWHERE during his tenure on this show, you guys. Like when he first meets Will when he brings Grace’s wallet back to 9C and refers to him as Grace’s housekeeper. Or when he initially barges into Grace Adler Designs in an attempt to get her to go out with him, and when she keeps resisting, he tells her, “I usually don’t have to work this hard” to get someone to date him. OR when Grace lets up and they’re on a date and he just casually drops the classic, “I thought you were getting bored around four o’clock, and then I thought, ‘Well, why would you be bored? I’m a catch.’” And this is just in the first three episodes of his time on the show. There’s a line between being confident and being smug, and he crosses it pretty often over the years. It’s not a good look. And I don’t understand how people think it’s charming. Like, at all. Someone please explain this to me in the comments.
His presence almost destroyed Will and Grace’s friendship.
I will forever be in awe of Eric McCormack and Debra Messing’s performance in “The Kid Stays Out of the Picture.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this episode since it first aired, but every single time, that fight rips me apart like it’s the first I’ve seen it. It was one of those things that I guess had to happen; after four seasons of relatively smooth sailing, something had to give between them. But when that something comes in the form of a doctor with a penchant for horses, of course there’s going to be bias against him. It’s not like Will and Grace were going to stop speaking when they were only three episodes into season five. But if you were like me when that episode first aired, there was a fleeting moment where, even though common sense told you otherwise, you believed that their friendship was over the second Will told Grace, “You don’t live here anymore.” And even though they make up and put all of this behind them, it absolutely made me scrutinize Leo even more than I probably would have if he weren’t the thing that was supposed to destroy the baby plot. If your existence contributes to something this massive, you better be worth it. You better be the best damn partner Grace has ever had, and you better be the one that stays.
Yeah…none of that describes Leo. And it’s so upsetting that this is the dude that spurred one of the most pivotal moments of the series.
(You know, I know it’s all part of Karen’s dream now, but if the show didn’t get revived, I could have brought up that whole Will and Grace not speaking for TWENTY YEARS until their kids meet in college thing. Because, I mean , Leo was at the center of that one, too. But the show got revived, so I guess I don’t need to mention it…oh wait, I said it out loud anyway? Meh, what’s done is done.)
He tricked her into meeting his parents when she wasn’t ready to.
When Leo starts mentioning going to Atlanta for Thanksgiving to meet his parents, Grace IMMEDIATELY lets him know that she’s not ready. And it’s completely understandable; by the time “The Needle and the Omelet’s Done” rolls around, they’ve only been dating for around two months, not to mention she literally just had the biggest fight of her life with Will. Her entire relationship with Leo is still a shaky subject, so easing into everything seems like the right move. A good, understanding person would have waited until their partner was ready for such a big moment in their relationship to make it happen. But Leo? Leo decided to go a different direction. And that direction involved passing off his parents as friends who “randomly” decide to join their brunch date, keeping Grace completely unaware of who they really are. Once she realizes what’s going on and is rightfully pissed that Leo lied to her, he tries to pass it off as protecting her. But how exactly is keeping someone in the dark like that protecting them? How could you not realize that forcing someone into something they don’t want to do might not go over so well? Why wouldn’t you give the woman you supposedly love the time to prepare herself that she obviously wants?
Speaking of love, this brunch also happens to be the first time Leo tells Grace he loves her, and it just irks me that this is how it goes down. It feels like the logic here is that throwing Grace into a situation she’s not comfortable with and lying to her about it is totally fine because it’s all from love, and that is not how the first “I love you” should go down. Bottom line: No. Stop it. It’s not cute. Respect your girlfriend’s wishes. The end.
PS: Leo didn’t even meet Grace’s mom until they got married the first first time, so what exactly was the damn rush on this, Marvin?
He’s basically a stranger to her when they first get married.
I mean, sure, an impromptu wedding in Central Park after two months of dating, with a dandelion ring and a pretzel bouquet and Katie Couric as your witness, might seem romantic and impulsive at first. But then you start cutting the cake at your reception and you realize that you don’t know each other’s favorite song, or favorite movie, or birthday, or REAL NAME (seriously, Marvin?). AND you’re making these realizations in front of your closest friends and family. So when Grace freaks out about this, it’s totally valid. And it’s totally valid to want to talk through it and try to make it better. But Leo starts the process by taking the “Laugh it off and tell your spouse she’s overreacting” approach. The GALL this guy has to tell Grace, “You’re blowing this way out of proportion.” Is she, though?! She just vowed to spend her life with this guy, and SHE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW HIS GIVEN NAME (I still can’t get over that, you guys, shouldn’t that be covered, like, immediately? Listen, not knowing he goes to his cabin to fish is forgivable. Not knowing that his real name is Marvin Markus is alarming). All of it was a massive red flag that really should have been taken seriously. It’s just that taking it seriously wouldn’t have made for the big, happy, celebratory milestone episode this was supposed to be.
Honestly, “Marry Me a Little, Marry Me a Little More” made a SOLID 100th episode for Will & Grace; it was the perfect amount of extravagant to really celebrate this achievement. So I’ll give Leo that. But I still hate this guy. Which makes the perfect segue to my next point…
Nobody likes him, and he can’t stand it.
Jack’s admittedly hard to read when it comes to his feelings towards Leo. Will and Karen, on the other hand? They make themselves pretty clear. From the start, Will obviously has a pretty valid grudge against him; he had been planning on starting a family with Grace, and between that, Grace sneaking around with Leo, and the fight to end all fights, the bias he has against Leo is crystal clear. To Will’s credit, he does eventually make an effort to not be so obvious in his distaste, once he realizes that Leo could be around for a while. But make no mistake: in the Nathan versus Leo battle, I know I’ve got Will Truman on my side of the fight.
And then there’s Karen. Sure, she threatens to send Rosario after Leo if he ever hurts Grace (which…did she do that after the divorce? Because I’d really like to see that) and obviously has some strong opinions about Leo volunteering to stay in Africa with Doctors Without Borders without at least talking to Grace about it first. But then we get to “Home Court Disadvantage,” and Karen lets it all out:
Karen: I just…I hate Leo. Yeah.
Karen: Mm-hmm, hate him. Hate him, hate him, hate him. He’s dull, he’s ugly, and he don’t make me laugh.
Grace: Is that all?
Karen: Well…no, honey, but I don’t want to say anything more. That would be hurtful.
Once Leo gets wind of this, he tries to play it off as nothing. But this dude just can’t stand the fact that there’s someone in the world he can’t win over with dad jokes and the hair he’s going to have until he’s eighty. He doesn’t even really like Karen and Karen’s fine with it, but apparently it’s unacceptable that she doesn’t like him. He even whips out his high school yearbook that’s supposed to prove that everyone likes him, to show her the hundred Never Changes and three hundred Keep in Touches he got as Sandy Springs High School’s funniest, most popular Homecoming king. I don’t know, maybe he was just a better person in high school? But I doubt it. Real talk, though: if you have to go to all these lengths, using irrelevant decades-old evidence to prove to one person (One. Person.) that you’re a likable guy, maybe you’re not as likable as you think you are.
I will say this, though: it is very therapeutic to watch Karen pummel Leo with a barrage of tennis balls. The woman gets my soul, and I love her so dearly.
He has no regard for Grace’s friendship with Will.
There are instances of this peppered throughout Leo’s time on this show, but let’s focus on the big one here. “Last Ex to Brooklyn” is a work of comedic art (by the way, it’s insane how many episodes that are pretty much Leo’s fault are in my top 20, even though I hate him). Throwing a dinner party together where the guest of honor is Leo’s ex, who also just so happens to be the girl Will slept with after he came out to Grace? It was a FEAT. It also brilliantly highlighted just how little Leo understands (or even wants to understand?) Grace’s history. I broke it down a little bit in my top 20 last year, but can we just assess the situation here for a second? Grace is going THROUGH IT in this episode. She only found out about Will and Diane three years ago, and it’s not like they really dealt with it after that big Thanksgiving revelation. Plus, I think it’s safe to say Grace never expected to come face to face with Diane. So when it happens, of course she’s going to freak, and of course she’s going to make a big deal about it. The LAST thing she needs right now is to babysit her husband’s ego when he wants attention and doesn’t understand why Diane sleeping with Will is such a big deal. But of course, that’s what she’s going to get.
Although, they knew nothing about each other when they got married, so why am I even surprised that he doesn’t know anything about Grace’s past? It’s stuff like this that makes you yearn for the days when Nathan would try to go to the Barney’s sale with Grace.
I guess messing with Grace’s head is a hobby of his?
I just…why? What is the goal here, if he’s not even going to meet her on the rooftop? It wasn’t enough that he’s the reason the two of them didn’t make it to their anniversary, he had to make that day harder than it was already going to be? I love Will so much in this storyline; he tries to take her mind off of things with a trip to the Berkshires, and he goes to the Peninsula rooftop so he’ll know if Leo showed up, just on the off chance that Grace will start to wonder about it somewhere down the road. He’s looking out for his best friend because he’s a decent human being. Leo, on the other hand, is just being a dick about things. And making a giant mess is kind of his deal, but just this once, could he maybe not?
To quote Maggie, from a conversation we had that was in no way about Leo but produced a gem that fits perfectly here, “You’re not better than this, but act like it.”
He cheated on Grace, lied about it, and expected Will to help clean up his mess.
I really tried to go chronologically here with my bullet points, but when this is the biggest reason of them all, how could it not all end here? I remember hearing Harry Connick, Jr. say something about how he still gets stopped on the street by people asking how he, personally, could ever cheat on Grace Adler. I think it’s kind of hilarious that everyone thinks he has to answer for his fictional character’s crimes, and it leads me to my point: Leo super fucked up, and nobody is letting that shit go. Just a quick recap of events: Grace came back from Cambodia before Leo’s assignment ended because “There’s a problem in my marriage, and I don’t know how to fix it.” Grace decides to wait for him to return so they can talk it out and hopefully get things back to the way they were. Leo, on the other hand, slept with a nurse, met up with the gang for Karen’s Vegas wedding, told Will it was just a kiss, got him to agree to talk to Grace when she didn’t take the news well before telling him what really happened, and then still had the nerve to ask him to smooth things over with Grace.
Doctors Without Borders does admirable work, but let’s face it, Leo Markus isn’t exactly the poster child for the organization.
For real, though…after everything that happened up to this point, after turning best friend against best friend, throwing Grace into situations she wasn’t ready to be thrown into, marrying her before they learned any significant information about each other, sticking her in Brooklyn away from everything and everyone she knew, choosing work over her time and again, this is just the cherry on top of an extremely rancid sundae that no one asked for. It’s legitimately the point of no return. And bless Grace, she tried to make it work. More than once. Against better judgment. After she robbed Leo’s apartment and considered setting it on fire. There was that disastrous dinner right after he cheated, where Jack and Karen were cool with calling him an adulterer because they could make a noise like a bear, and szechuan beef was a metaphor for a failed marriage (but let’s be real, it was a spot-on metaphor). There’s also the fact that in between the final season of the original run and the first season of the revival, she and Leo actually got remarried and took up golf for some unknown reason to try to give their relationship another fair go. But both times, Grace just couldn’t do it, and Will put it so perfectly all the way back in “Saving Grace, Again,” when she was trying to figure out whether or not Leo wants to see her after that upsetting voicemail:
Will: What do you think’s gonna happen? You show up on the roof, and you look him in the eyes, and all of a sudden, he’s not the guy who always put work before his marriage and, oh yeah, cheated on you!
Let me just end by saying this: like I said back in October, Leo’s appearance in “Emergency Contact” this past year felt like some much needed closure. It gave me the very real feeling that this would be the last time we see this guy creepily lurking in doorways until someone notices him, and hear him try to get the last word just to piss Grace off. I really hope that’s the case. Because so help me, if I see his face anywhere near these upcoming seasons, I’m going to be throwing my TV out the window.
Where do you stand on the matter of Nathan versus Leo? Do you think you can get me to see a good side (any good side) to Grace’s horse guy? Let’s chat in the comments.