JOE BIDEN: My measure, David, and I take a look at when things really began to change, is in the social culture changes. I think Will and Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios this is Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: So Kathy.
KATHY: Yeah, Tobin.
TOBIN: Do you know I dragged us into the studio?
KATHY: You keep asking me this, but I'll play along. [TOBIN CHUCKLES]
TOBIN: Because...as of today...Thursday...September 28th…on NBC...The National Broadcasting Company...
KATHY: Okay, let's move this along.
TOBIN: Will and Grace is back!
[WILL AND GRACE MUSIC PLAYS]
TOBIN: This show has so much personal importance for me. So like, while young gay Tobin was looking up gay stuff on the internet and then wiping the browser clean [KATHY LAUGHS], this was the show I could watch out in the open with my parents.
TOBIN: And these characters, I feel like they taught me so much. Like, Will and Grace showed me the sacredness of the gay man, straight girl friendship...
[CLIP] GRACE: Will! I have a $100 in my bank account and $75 of that is earmarked for a Belgian wax tomorrow! [AUDIENCE LAUGHS]
WILL: What's a Belgian wax?
GRACE: It's just a plain old wax but it hurts so much I treat myself to a waffle afterwards!
TOBIN: Jack was like a how to of being flamboyant and proud...
[CLIP] JACK: Just Jack! [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] *SINGING* touch me in the morning...
TOBIN: And Karen could sink a devastating one-liner...
[CLIP] KAREN: I think the real mistake was when your father spotted your mother across a crowded swamp.
KATHY: Yeah, it was just like, a really good sitcom.
TOBIN: I can tell from the tone of your voice that this is not as serious for you.
KATHY: I mean, it was like a solid show. I laughed a lot. I love Jack, I love Karen, but it was nowhere near as formative for me as like Xena, but I still liked it!
TOBIN: This is all that I'm gonna get from you? [LAUGHS]
KATHY: You know what we should be talking about Tobin?
KATHY: Did you know that Cate Blanchett was recently tapped to play Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin's biopic of Lucille Ball?
TOBIN: This, yeah, I did know this.
KATHY: Cate Blanchett! Come on it should be Debra Messing! [TOBIN LAUGHS] I mean the fact that she's not playing Lucille Ball is just a travesty. Debra Messing is a huge fan of I Love Lucy, huge fan. Lucy's kids have said Debra Messing should play Lucy. And Debra Messing just looks like Lucy!
TOBIN: Aren't you excited though to see how seriously Cate Blanchett is gonna play this part, like "Ricky why do you not play the babaloo for me?" [BOTH LAUGH]
KATHY: That's a good point.
TOBIN: Okay okay, we've gotten off track. Back to my thing, Will and Grace. I just want to say a couple things about why this show deserves its propers. So like first of all it won 16 Emmys. Vice President Joe Biden said it was the reason we have gay marriage. And I'm also just gonna say it: Andy Cohen wouldn’t exist without this show.
KATHY: Not making the connection, but I get it. You love the show.
TOBIN: Weeelllllll, yes, I love the show, I really do. I am also feeling deeply stressed about it coming back. Like, at the time the show was ahead of its time -- but now it kinda feels like a big gay time capsule.
TOBIN: So like, almost everyone on the show was white. They almost never had sex. And for a gay show, they spent a lot of time making kinda shitty jokes about other gay people...
[CLIP] KAREN: Did you say D&M Properties? [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] Oh honey, you do not wanna go up against them. That's Dierdre and Monet! The Flipping Dykes! [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] These ladies are vicious! Mess with their livelihood and they come down on you hard, and your only warning is the click click click of their Manolos.
KATHY: Yeah, I'm not gonna lie Tobin, this doesn't sell me on the show.
TOBIN: I am so conflicted Kathy. And I feel like I'm not the only one. Like I've had this conversation with other gay men and we're all sort of expressing this joyful apprehension about the show coming back and we don't know how to feel about it. [THEME MUSIC FADES IN] So I brought someone into the studio to talk about it. We're gonna talk about why we loved the show, why it was problematic as hell. We're also gonna talk about Mipango.
KATHY: What the hell's Mipango?
TOBIN: You're gonna find out, after the break.
VOX: Nancy will be back in a minute.
[THEME MUSIC OUT]
[THEME MUSIC IN]
[CLIP] GRACE: Look what you called Jack was pretty harsh, I mean what do you say about me behind my back?
WILL: That you should never wear capri pants! [GRACE GASPS]
TOBIN: So we're going to talk about Will and Grace.
TOBIN: The easy thing to start with is just introduce yourself. Who you are, what you do.
ALEX: Sure. I'm Alex Jung. I am a staff writer at Vulture/New York magazine, and I cover pop culture stuff.
TOBIN: My first question is, did you watch the show when you were younger?
TOBIN: So like what were your feelings about it, did it help you understand gay culture? Like, what did you feel about Will and Grace?
ALEX: Will and Grace came out in 1998 which was when I was in, end of middle school beginning of high school summer on there. And so that was when I first was figuring out my sexuality. And there weren't a lot of things that I could watch on television that spoke to that experience at all, right? It was literally three things: Will and Grace, Queer As Folk, which I downloaded off of Limewire, [TOBIN LAUGHS] and then also Sex and the City, which I downloaded off of Limewire too. [BOTH LAUGH] And those were the three shows that I would watch, and sort of like ravenously look for clues about like how to be this person, right? And of course like most of them like Sex and the City and Will and Grace were set in New York and so it created this fantasy or this idea of like what New York City would be like if and when I got there. But that illusion also shatters I think very quickly once you actually move there.
TOBIN: And you're like, oh no it takes a lot of money to live the way they do. [BOTH LAUGH]
Alex: And also it's just, the problem I think is that it does become very prescriptive in a sense about like, what does it look like to be a gay man in New York City, for instance. And I don't think the show ever really pulled away from that image even if it made fun of it.
TOBIN: Yeah. Do you have favorite moments that you remember from the show?
ALEX: [CHUCKLES] I was watching the episode where they had discovered that Jack hadn't come out to his mom:
[CLIP] WILL: You call me you took an oath before God and your mother that you would never deny who you are!
JACK: I lied!
WILL: You told me some elaborate story about how you came out of her as a way of avoiding peewee football!
JACK: I lied!
ALEX: And it's a Thanksgiving episode.
TOBIN: [WHISPERING] It's such a good episode.
ALEX: It's so good. And they're like forcing him to do it.
TOBIN: It's just like, the jokes are excellent, right? And Karen and Grace then start acting and fighting over this pretend relationship with Jack and this manufactured drama.
ALEX: And there are like some lines in there that are just like [KISS] delicious, right. Like Karen like telling Grace...
[CLIP] KAREN: He was looking for real woman, not somebody who just lays there like bib lettuce.
ALEX: And just the way she says bib lettuce [BOTH LAUGH]
TOBIN: I also remember, doesn't Grace come back and say like, "well when he left you what did he say?"
[CLIP] GRACE: Oh yes, my Harold and Maude phase is over.
TOBIN: [BOTH LAUGHING] It was so good.
ALEX: It was so good.
TOBIN: I remember that episode too because it wasn't just that he was coming out, but it like introduce me to this idea that when I was ready to come out, there could be such thing as like a network of friends who would be like a safety net around me.
[CLIP] WILL: I admire you Jack, because you are more yourself than anyone else I have ever known.
JACK: Well look I appreciate what you're trying to do but this is different, my mother will fall apart she's...
WILL: Jack Jack Jack Jack Jack. Aren't you tired?
ALEX: And there was something about Will and Grace because of what it was at the time, like you didn't actually have a lot of gay relationships, like dating on the show, right? Like that didn't happen for a really long time and it was part of the criticism of the show, but in some ways it's like perfect for a teenager like struggling with their sexuality, to like watch it and like watch this grown man go through the same problems.
TOBIN: We talked about favorite moments, did you have least favorite moments?
ALEX: I hated the kiss between Will and Jack.
TOBIN: Okay, so this is the episode where there's supposed to be a gay kiss on like a soap opera they love...
[CLIP] JACK: Well tonight you're making dinner and the three of us will be parked in front of your TV to watch our favorite favorite sitcom, Along Came You.
GRACE: And why is it our new favorite sitcom?
JACK: Because tonight Ed and Gerrard are going to kiss! Only the first ever primetime network kiss between two gay men!
WILL: Oh, that's tonight?
JACK: Uh it's in TV Guide. Don't you read?
TOBIN: And then it doesn't happen. So they go to The Today Show and they like force this to happen on like the audience cam with Al Roker.
ALEX: Right. And I remember that episode because basically the show had been criticized for not showing gay storylines. And so they wrote a meta commentary episode addressing the criticism. And so this is their way of quote unquote addressing the drama, where then Will you know like forces it on him. So it's not romantic, it's just literal, right. It's like literally two men kiss. That was supposed to be what we get?
ALEX: Which I found incredibly condescending.
TOBIN: Even on the gay show they kiss as like a comedic moment kind of thing.
ALEX: Right. It's not sexual. And that was always I think the problem, if we are to level a problem with Jack, was never really about flamboyance, I think, to me at least. Because even now I kind of love it. Like re-watching it, I'm like oh Jack is great. Jack is someone who like really owns who he is, does not give a fuck. He knows lots of references. [BOTH LAUGH] But also like Jack would be having way more sex too you know. Or like they would just he would just be a much more I think like less of a neutered character than they created. Which is I think where the problem was.
TOBIN: So yeah there was this thing about the criticism against Jack. There was some, there was a lot of criticism that he was like a stereotype.
TOBIN: And I don't know. Like I want to get into that with you because I...when I was thinking about the show now that I am an adult gay man, it's kind of like, I know people like Jack. Like, I know Jack's. So if I were to think about it like the show did engage in like what his professional hopes were, what jobs he wanted to have. So I'm wondering like now looking back, do you think there was an element of like gays who felt Jack was like "bad for the gays?" Do you know what I mean?
ALEX: Sure. Yeah. I mean, and you still see it now, I think in gay culture in certain ways, right? This push towards masc bros [ BOTH CHUCKLE] and this desire that everyone should sort of be able to pass as straight in some ways at least aesthetically maybe. I think that's why re-watching Jack is kind of great because he does feel like a character of an era that I really enjoy, and I think exists in the world. Especially anyone who was like theater- adjacent? [TOBIN LAUGHS] Like of course Jack exists in this world!
TOBIN: We're in this moment right now where like all of TV basically is getting rebooted...
ALEX: Yeah it's terrible.
TOBIN: It's like Twin Peaks, Full House...
ALEX: X-Files sort of came back.
TOBIN: Yeah. With all these reboots, some of them go like the time capsule route. Some of go the like we're gonna to try and modernize a little bit to encapsulate like the way the world is now. Do you have a hope for which route Will and Grace will go?
ALEX: That's a good question and I don't know if I have a good answer, and I'd be curious to hear what you think. [TOBIN CHUCKLES] Only in the sense that, in a way I think a show is what it is, and like it has its own skeleton, and a lot of that is determined by the cast and the characters that you ended up creating. And so I'm not really a fan when they're like okay, well let's address this race problem by then bringing in like a character arc with Donald Glover or something.
ALEX: You know like obviously I'm thinking about Girls here but like that was sort of what happened and I feel like in a lot of ways you sort of have to be true to what the show is. And a lot of that to me is about whiteness, like it's about sort of being aspirationally mobile, white, well-to-do and kind of heteronormative in a lot of ways. So I think like that's the sandbox that you're in and that's kind of the sandbox you have to play in.
TOBIN: Yeah. I mean the thing that I was thinking about with, you know, should they modernize, should they not modernize, like should they open the lens of like what their thing is or not? Oddly enough I thought back to the scene that was in the original run, where it's like something where they all got woken up in the middle of the night and Jack walks out of his bedroom and he is with I think a Filipino man.
ALEX: Oooh, uh huh.
[CLIP] Grace: Who are you?
MIPANGO: Mipango, like the candy treat? [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] And don't worry Jack has a black belt in Taekwondo. The Navy SEALs, they trained him for this sort of thing.
T: And like that person is there purely as a punchline. Like the fact that he's there, I think his body is a little bit of a punchline, the fact that he doesn't speak great English is like a punchline. And I remember watching that as like a young person and not until that moment really realizing what the lens of the show was, if that makes sense? Because suddenly it was like, like a wakeup call. Like, oh now they're trying to deal with the race thing and they did it in a really shitty way.
ALEX: Right. Right.
TOBIN: So, I kind of think about that now with should they modernize should they not. And it's a little bit like, I don't know if it's in their tool box.
ALEX: Right. You know I mean these shows were always about white, gay male sensibility. And that's sort of what I mean even about coming to New York as a gay Asian guy. You like go to New York and you think it's you think that your life is going to be like Will but then you realize you're actually that an unnamed Asian guy who's the punchline.
TOBIN: Woah [SIGHS]
ALEX: Not to get too dark on you. [ALEX LAUGHS]
TOBIN: No, no, it's so real. I'm just going to take a five minute break and then we can come back. [BOTH LAUGH] So in this reboot, they are also pulling the kind of classic, now classic move in reboots, which is just that they're going to ignore the last episode and all that transpired. Do you have feelings about that?
ALEX: I don't. I'm actually, I'm like, alright sure. [BOTH LAUGH]
TOBIN: I was hoping you would have, I have so many feelings about this!
ALEX: [LAUGHING] Then you should tell me what your feelings are because I think I don't have feelings about it.
TOBIN: Well, so it was it was kind of an all over the place last season and they went with the storyline where Will and Grace have a huge falling out and don't speak for basically like the rest of our adult lives. And then they meet up again as older parents who are dropping their kids off at college.
TOBIN: And then there's this really neat story line of you know their kids fall in love and get married. And that's what brings them back together. But I did think that there was something in there, as clunkily as it was done, there was like a nugget of an interesting storyline that I was fascinated that they try to tackle, which is I think as a gay man I've had the experience of having a dysfunctionally close relationship with a female friend. And that in some ways that can't last in that way forever. And I have experienced the like break up of that, because you need to move on with your life.
TOBIN: And so I thought it was interesting that they tried to do something with that. And I'm a little bummed that they're now going to be like, just kidding, they stayed friends forever it was totally fine. [ALEX LAUGHS] They just kept going the way they were going.
ALEX: Right. Okay. No, I hear you.
ALEX: Because I agree. Like I do think that there is something really interesting there about like, I think that dynamic, that relationship dynamic, is a real one and also its disintegration is a real one. Especially when you're confronted by these pressures about like baby or marriage or these things, and like how does this kind of non-traditional quote unquote relationship function then when there are these other pressures around heteronormativity, for lack of a better word.
ALEX: Yeah that's like that's a fascinating thing to go into. Is Will and Grace the show to do that? I have no idea.
TOBIN: Touche touche. [LAUGHS]
[THEME MUSIC IN]
TOBIN: We'll have you on again in a couple of months, to be like: Oh no, we misjudged this whole thing.
ALEX: We can have a reboot of this conversation.
TOBIN: But we're going to ignore that the last question happened.
TOBIN: How about that?
TOBIN: Alex Jung is a staff writer for Vulture at New York Magazine. You can find us on all the social media places, we're @nancypodcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
KATHY: And if there's any justice in the world you'll all join me in signing my change.org petition to tell Aaron Sorkin to stop messing around and cast Debra Messing in his Lucille Ball biopic.
TOBIN: Okay, there's no petition. We cannot do that. [LAUGHS]
KATHY: There is no justice in this world!
TOBIN: Alright, producer...
KATHY: Matt Collette!
TOBIN: Sound designers...
MATT: Matt Boynton and Jeremy Bloom!
KATHY: Elisabeth Dee!
KATHY: Jenny Lawton!
TOBIN: Executive Producer...
KATHY: Paula Szuchman!
TOBIN: I'm Tobin Low!
KATHY: I'm Kathy Tu!
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: "The only warning you'll have is the click click click of their Manolos."
KATHY: [WHISPERS] What's a Manolo?
TOBIN: A Manolo Blahnik.
KATHY: [WHISPERS] What's a Manolo Blahnik?
TOBIN: It's a shoe, it's a fancy type of shoe! [KATHY LAUGHS] I have to explain everything to you! I have to explain every. Single. Thing.