I'm the kind of person who gets shushed. It's never been easy for me to tone down my reaction to the world, sometimes to the irritation of people around me. But when Will & Grace returns to TV on Sept. 28, I'll be reunited with the characters and the show that taught me that it's OK to be extra. Not everyone operates a Kristen Stewart-level of coolness. And it's time to celebrate that again.
We live in a world where individuality may be glorified, but irony still reigns. The harbingers of broad appeal and square-ness — pumpkin spice lattes, bestselling paperbacks, winning football teams, a worn-in pair of black yoga leggings — are universally understood jokes. The comedies are nearly indistinguishable from the dramas. And high-kicking back into that landscape in fabulous fashion is a multi-cam, laugh-track comedy that's literally straight out of the '90s. Will & Grace is rich with color, big hair, broad physical comedy, and full-throated Ethel Merman impressions. But I couldn't be more delighted to welcome Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen and all their too-much-ness back into my life.
It's cool to be brash again ... It's cool to make noise about what you're feeling.
There's nothing measured or moderate about these four New York City friends. They love "uncool" things, like ice shows and Barry Manilow and Sound Of Music singalong screenings. They have no chill about anything they experience, the good or the bad. They'll tell anyone who'll listen how much they love gay porn and classic Broadway musicals. They're loud — all the time, even when they're trying so hard to be quiet and classy. (Hell, Karen's catty, high-pitched voice is an inextricable part of her character — check out the pilot, before Megan Mullally found that tone, and see if you even recognize the wealthy drinker.) From Will's fussiness and reference-laden humor to Grace's rampant neuroses and tendency to burst out into song, they're always "on" and they're always a lot to take. And while that certainly means that they're not welcome or beloved everywhere they go, the core four of Will & Grace accept everything that's over-the-top about each other.
It takes a lot of practice to let go of trying to please people who have nothing more than a tangential effect on your life. Say someone tells you a funny story in a crowded restaurant, and your responding squawk-laugh-thing is a bit less dignified than you'd hoped. You could dwell for hours on the disapproving look from a sour-faced neighbor, but why? The deed is done; you're likely never going to see that person again; and not everyone is going to like or appreciate you in this life, especially if you're a little more — let's say "vivacious" — than is the norm.
I still struggle with this, and it's become worse as I get older. Because there's so much judgement inherent in our culture. In a 2017 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 48 percent of millennial respondents said that they worry about how social media affects their physical and mental health. And while this particular survey doesn't break down the specific anxieties those respondents were referring to, people do have the ability to live-tweet every embarrassing moment they see, and almost everyone has a camera on their phone. With this observational culture moving as swiftly as it does, just the thought of doing or saying something that will turn into an anecdote that some stranger tells their friend is mortifying. But then again, who cares? In all likelihood, you'll never know about it. And in the event that you go viral? Get that book deal, girl.
Multi-cam sitcoms like Will & Grace are like theater, because they have to be; the performances, the movements, and the personalities must be big to make an impact. Prestige comedy has turned that volume knob down considerably, with its tight closeups and lack of a studio audience. The first three episodes of the Will & Grace revival return to Jack's spontaneously danced entrances and Karen's shrill pronouncements, and it feels like someone ripped the side salad out of my hand and replaced it with an ice cream sundae. It's cool to be brash again. It's cool to proclaim your best friend's fabulousness loudly enough that the whole room hears it. It's cool to make noise about what you're feeling.
And in our cynical 2017 reality, I've found that that letting it slip that you care about something — that you want something — can set you up for ridicule. ("Cultural irony is an anxiety of investment, often a fleeting sense of superiority for such self-awareness, and a desire to latch onto edgy ideals of obscurity," Philip Burnett wrote in a 2014 Salon piece about the topic. "In shielding ourselves from criticism, we are anything but earnest; ultimately, our apathy is a reflection of our insecurity.") And because of that, the sheer passion of the core Will & Grace four is refreshing. They're all thirsty: for fame, for a date, to be liked, and in Karen's case, for half a Vicodin and a straight gin chaser. They wear their need on their sleeves. Jack yearns for attention from Will and Grace so badly that he writes their regretful deaths into his new off-off-off-Broadway play. Karen is so determined to be the queen bee of her own life that she nearly starts a brawl with her dead husband's mistress at his funeral. They take it farther than they need to, and that gives me the confidence of knowing that anything I do in a crisis can't possibly be that excessive.
And while I'm sure that there'll be those who object, especially now, to the tenor of the series, I have to wonder what it is that they really have a problem with. It's harder to put into practice, but I've come to understand — and Will & Grace has helped a lot here — that people who use "annoying" as an adjective to describe people who live out loud usually aren't all that comfortable with themselves. It takes some combination of guts and lack of self-awareness to refuse to tone yourself down for the comfort of strangers. ("No matter who you are, some people will disapprove," Dr. Fredric Neuman wrote for Psychology Today. "They are in the business of looking down on everyone. They judge everybody unfavorably because of their own emotional needs.") And while being self-aware is important when it affects how you treat other people, no one has ever improved their life by staying up all night agonizing over that one humiliating thing they did that day. (Trust me, I've tried.)
Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen don't care how unreasonable they are — they want what they want, and they are who they are. And I hope this revival reminds a whole new generation of fans that they don't need to dim their shine just to make someone else more comfortable.