Easy. The show which emerged on the cusp of the self-named, new “golden age” of TV, was an odd phenomenon for me. Having in a sense “survived” the war on gay men, i.e. the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the sudden appearance of what for all intents seemed a gay male Amos n’ Andy seemed hugely underwhelming.
The fact that these crudely drawn characters were now a huge success felt embarrassing. But something strange happened on the way to superiority. Real change that remarkably the show likely fostered: a sense of normality–and inevitability–for gay men’s existence, equality, and humanity.
Out of the gate, the dynamic of semi-closeted and Will and side- (heavy on the) kick Jack, not “effeminate” but brilliantly fey, seemed off-kilter, taking time to regulate. I’m sure some LGBT semiotics grad students have and will have had field days with the odd fluctuations in their relationship reflecting, or not, network notes and ratings as it progressed. The chops of Mullalley and Hayes could have overshadowed McCormack and Messing to the point of a spinoff, making the show a fillingless pie, because ultimately Will and Grace were gateway characters to the real stuff: Jack, often pathetic but never hopeless, and Karen–a unique creation no way resembling anything of Manhattan’s Upper East Side–as a kind of a “T” placeholder, with laughter and tears going hand-in-hand with everything about her.
Early on, Will has another man, only partially visible, in his apartment. And Will the character is mostly an asshole, except the “show” somehow sees his denial of his sexuality via Grace perversely as heroic. I might be reading my own internalized homophobia into the show, having been involved with more than one man who tangoed versus bear-hugged their sexuality, and struggled lifelong with self-esteem and inferiority with my hetero counterparts in the realm of male privilege.
However, the crazy “beard” that gay guys and single straight women adorn each other with genuinely feels like an old TV sitcom, at least here in the U.S. I will examine how far we’ve come since in a future post–and when I’ve caught myself up on that front as well.