Will & Grace,” a throwback to an era when razzmatazz, laugh-track sitcoms had not yet been supplanted by single-camera comedies tailored for millennial tastes, is coming back to prime time — how will it play out today?
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Eleven years after parting ways, seemingly forever, the “Will & Grace” gang — same cast, same writers, same studio audience warmup guy — reunited on the NBCUniversal lot here in mid-August.
As they started work on 29 new episodes, Sean Hayes, returning to his role as the overly dramatic Jack, belted out a song from “Dreamgirls.” Megan Mullally, who plays Karen, did a little dance and shouted, “Sass is in the house!”
But not everyone was doing Rockette kicks. Ruminating on a sofa in the middle of Stage 22 were Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, the creators of “Will & Grace.” They had already celebrated their show’s revival and were now fretting about the evolved culture, in particular the emphasis on identity politics and the way TV shows are now picked apart on social media. How would their sometimes sharp-edged sitcom, which returns to NBC on Sept. 28, go over in the Age of Rage?
“That really is the big question,” Mutchnick said, crossing his arms.
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“Will & Grace” pushed well past the broadcast network comfort zone when it arrived with a finger snap in 1998. The show’s framework was familiar — “I Love Lucy,” with twists — but its focus on gay characters was not. Being gay on TV was considered so taboo that “Will & Grace” writers waited until the second season to risk including a (modest) same-sex kiss.
Now, however, with the legalization of same-sex marriage and “Transparent” and gay characters even popping up on the Disney Channel, the question is not whether “Will & Grace” is too inclusive — too ahead of the culture — but whether it is inclusive enough. At a time when Hollywood is under intense pressure to avoid stereotypes and to promote diversity from every possible angle, “Will & Grace” — once seen as the epitome of diversity on television — could actually find itself assailed for being behind the curve.
It’s about four privileged white people. The characters, in particular the plain-spoken and politically incorrect Karen, occasionally crack racially tinged jokes. Although the lovably uptight gay character at the center of the show, Will,…