It's something of a testament to societal change that by the time Will & Grace hit its eighth and final season the idea of having gay characters front and center in a series no longer seemed revolutionary or particularly provocative. In a way that's both the boon and bust of Will & Grace as a series in general--after the shock value had worn off, we were left with four lovable, if at times annoying, characters who seemed to be stuck in a Groundhog Day world where they kept doing the same things and at times uttering the same jokes over and over. Will & Grace started its run with that elusive "X" factor (one might say "XX" factor, but that might be genetically incorrect, as it were), with an appealing Debra Messing as Grace, best friend to Eric McCormick's gay Will. The show really got its comedic juices flowing from the two exemplarily daffy supporting characters, Sean Hayes' show queen Jack and Megan Mullaly's singular creation who defies easy description, rich bitch (well, I tried anyway) Karen. There's little doubt the show lost some "oomph" in succeeding seasons, with gay proponents particularly lamenting the show's inability to give Will a regular partner, supposedly thereby falling into the stereotyped trap of portraying gay relationships as transient. That failing at least is solved by this last season, with Will ensconsed in a lasting relationship with Vince (Bobby Cannavale, easily the most nonstereotypical "gay" man ever on television, probably intentionally so). For this season, it's Grace whose relationship with husband Leo (Harry Connick, Jr.) is up in the air after his revelation that he's had an affair. Even though Grace is pregnant by him (unbeknownst to Leo).
And so there you have the setup for this final season, which starts out with an appealing bang with one of two live episodes (sadly only the east coast feeds are provided in this set), something that probably helped jumpstart the series creatively after a couple of seasons (at least) of some coasting, frankly. It's fun in both of the live episodes to see the actors momentarily break character, a la The Carol Burnett Show, where the absurdity of certain situations (usually involving Jack and/or Karen) makes giggling all but impossible. If the rest of the season doesn't quite rise to that level of giddiness, it at least provides solid punchlines throughout, when it isn't trying too hard to be politically or sociologically relevant (Grace's joke about George Bush being brain dead in one episode just falls amazingly flat, surprising considering the demographic that probably was in the live audience).
Where this show excels is in its loving depiction of four dysfunctional characters, each of whom has anal retentive qualities that can be absolutely hilarious. Jack's idiotic pursuit of cabaret (and cable television) fame is matched by Karen's vapid drug induced pursuit of material excess. Will's sort of "no wire hangers" ethos is matched by Grace's supposed carefree lifestyle which actually masks an uptightness about her failures as a partner (wife-wise and otherwise). If the show occasionally seems forced and past its prime, the buoyant presence of Hayes and Mullaly regularly raises it out of its doldrums and usually provides at least one or two socko moments in each episode.
The pluses and minuses of the show are on full display in the season ending hour long wrap up episode. A very funny dream sequence (with some great makeup effects) leads to an examination of our titular characters' ultimate falling out and rapprochement, with a very touching transgenerational denouement (which some will see as a twist if they don't carefully read some storage boxes artfully placed on the set). At the same time, you get lots of lackluster comedy (the initial scene between Connick and Messing is just awful, though a later scene has a great punchline when Messing covers her daughters ears while talking about "getting laid") and just pointless banter (the bathtub scene between Jack and Karen, for example). If you can look past these occasional failings, however, you get some solid character work and always some beautifully funny non sequiturs courtesy of the supporting crew.
There are a number of through line guest shots in the final season, among them a very funny Alec Baldwin as an agent secreting away Karen's supposedly dead husband Stan in something akin to a witness protection program. And there's the "love to hate him" Leslie Jordan as Beverley Leslie, the deeply closeted extremely short Republican who makes a play for Jack in the final episode, setting up one of the funnier sight gags of the season. But it's the central four characters of the series where Will & Grace finds its obvious strengths. While McCormack and Messing's bickering can get tiring, and repetitive, Hayes and Mullaly always bring such joie de vivre to their roles that everything more or less balances out. In fact, I often wished during the run of this series that it had really been about Jack & Karen.
The full frame standard television image looks great, with solid color and detail and no readily apparent damage. There is a noticeable "texture" difference between the two live episodes and the rest of the season, which was filmed. But why, pray tell, no anamorphically enhanced HD transfers when the source elements were readily available?
The DD 2.0 is similarly excellent, with great fidelity and above-average separation, not to mention that delicious piano bumper music (and Jack's not so delicious musical moments). There is a very nice duet of "Unforgettable" in the final episode where Hayes, somewhat out of character now, and Mulally, definitely not doing Karen's squeaky voice, get to show their vocal chops.
The boxed set is labeled "loaded with extras," to which I might retort, "yeah, loaded like Karen's loaded" (if you catch my drift). Only the final disc has any extras, and they are fairly slim: a funny outtake reel (the repeated segment with Jack donning a wig to impersonate Grace's mother is hilarious), "The Final Bow," a behind-the-scenes video shot during the last week of the show, "Last Words," a brief interview featurette with cast and crew, an audio commentary on the last episode, and, in the kind of ridiculous department, "Themed Featurettes," which amount to clip reels united by some subject (like money). Oh! And "interactive menus." Thank heaven.
Will & Grace deserves its historical props for highlighting gay characters on series television. If the show had fallen somewhat from its creative peak by the time of this last season, there's still enough mojo here, especially vis a vis Karen and Jack, for some laugh out loud moments along the way. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet