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Will & Grace somehow manages to wring comedy from grief

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Photo: Chris Haston (NBC)
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I really appreciate how Will & Grace has treated the death of Debbie Reynolds, who played Bobbie Adler, Grace’s mom. From her picture in Will and Grace’s apartment, to Grace’s meltdown at Rosario’s funeral, the show has aptly depicted how long the grieving process takes and how, in some ways, it never really ends. In this episode, for example, as Grace kidnaps Will to go home to Schenectady and celebrate her mom’s birthday with her dad (Robert Klein) and two estranged sisters (Sara Rue and Mary McCormack). Sara Rue was so spray-tanned (I’m guessing?), it was downright distracting, and I could never really tell if that was a choice for the character or not. But Grace’s relationship with her sisters was as delightfully dysfunctional as always, and even Will’s presence inspires some golf jokes with Grace’s dad.

The episode’s titled “One Job,” but really Will isn’t there to blindly agree with Grace so much as he is to help her deal with the fact that her mother is gone. Her pointing out all the emotional highlights and lowlights in the kitchen might have been one of the most poignant parts of the episode, as the thing about your childhood home is that’s basically a memory minefield. Even have to give props to the set designer this episode, as the Adlers’ kitchen looked as delightfully cluttered with knickknacks and bric-a-brac as Bobbie would have wanted it.


Jack’s B-plot started out promisingly with the piano crashing on top of the robot guy, but quickly derailed. That’s the problem with Will & Grace’s guest-star stunts: The show always appeared to believe that just bringing in a big name, like Alec Baldwin’s Malcolm, was enough, and little effort seemed to be added after that. Malcolm’s big moment this episode is that his pajamas match the drapes. Funny the first few times, but quickly got stale. Karen’s running gag with Smitty was better.

And Jack’s devastation over his breakup didn’t really land because we never really got invested in Drew as a character; plus, Drew’s right, he’s not going to stay with the first man he ever sleeps with. Popular Jack finally reaching the point where he wants to settle down with someone is a worthwhile plot line, but this was not the guy. It made for one of those lopsided A-plot B-plot episodes, especially since the A-plot was so good.

Again, it points to where Will and Grace are in their lives: the age where some parents aren’t around any more and you have to deal with the one who’s left. Selling houses and saying goodbye to some memories, as painful as that is. Debbie Reynolds was such a goddamn treasure that I couldn’t help getting choked up at the language of her letter, which sounded just like her whether it was read by Eric McCormack or Robert Klein. And the girls’ rendition of “All I Do Is Dream Of You,” from Debbie’s own Singing In The Rain was a heartbreaker (yes, I misidentified this song at first: filled with shame and turning in my musical card). It’s the Catch-22 about grief: We want to remember these things because we never want to forget these people (as if we ever could), but sometimes, it hurts so much when we do. But if they weren’t so wonderful and if we didn’t love them so much, it wouldn’t feel like we were being stabbed with a red-hot poker to the heart. That’s a tricky emotion to pull off—in a 22-minute sitcom, no less—but in keeping with its welcome theme of poignancy in its later season nine episodes, Will & Grace pulls it off. Thanks to Debra Messing, especially: Grace’s tendency is to make things all about her all the time (she says she’s only thinking of her father and Will replies “Are you, Grace? Or are you thinking about you?”). But this time, she’s doing so for straight-up preservation, because she’s not ready to give up the house, and her mom yet. It’s the absolute best part of Will and Grace’s relationship that his one job is to help her let go.

Stray observations

  • Eric McCormack and Mary McCormack: no relation, apparently. But she does have a brother named Will McCormack, which confused me momentarily.
  • Same Time, Next Year is one of my favorite movies.
  • My screener didn’t have that “Will & Grace was recorded live in front of a studio audience” line at the beginning; maybe they couldn’t do it because of all the different sets?
  • Will’s terror over “Schenectady? But that’s where your family lives!’ was spot-on.
  • “It’s the Phoenix Waste Management Open.” “So many good choices!”
  • Apologies for the lateness of this review: I was out watching Erik Adams host a screening of Bill Hader’s new HBO series Barry with Henry Winkler. Erik, Henry, and Barry all highly recommended!
  • Next week: Season finale! have to say, I am actually surprised how much better I feel about this show now than I did at the beginning of the season. At first, I was kind of sad that it came back, but now I’m glad it did.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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