Will & Grace

Is Will & Grace Still the Most Queer Representative Show on Network TV?

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Jonathan G

Writer. Feminist. Eater of most things.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Will & Grace made its triumphant return to primetime television. In its first few episodes, it has managed to foster the same spirit that originally skyrocketed it to TV history. Although the show has been gone for a few years, Will & Grace has already commented on more queer issues than most other shows. That made me think about just how different the major TV network landscape is now compared to when it first premiered.

A Brief History

Will & Grace first premiered in 1998 and ran until 2006. The show premiered around the time of Ellen Degeneres’ Ellen cancellation. Shortly after the main character came out as lesbian, NBC cancelled the show. It’s hard not to see that as retaliation for the main’s character’s sexuality.

will & graceFollowing Ellen, Will & Grace was really the only major network TV show that centered specifically on queer storylines. On premium cable channels, shows like Queer As Folk and Six Feet Under also flourished. Six Feet Under may not have followed an entirely queer cast, but queer fans and critics heralded Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of an openly gay man, David Fisher, as ground-breaking at the time.

Aside from the previously mentioned male-focused shows, there was also The L Word. The L Word followed the lives of lesbian and bisexual women in LA. Apart from this, most queer representation spread through reality TV shows like Queer Eye For the Straight Guy and MTV True Life stories. And again, most times, representation focused mostly on gay men.

Today

Today, queer characters are more prominent on major network TV. One show that comes to mind is the fan-favorite, Modern Family, featuring gay couple Mitch and Cam, and their daughter. Other popular shows with queer characters include Empire and Brooklyn Nine Nine. Even newer shows like Riverdale and Dynasty have been sure to include at least one queer character in their line-up. 

Premium outlets also boast some amazing queer programming. Some favorites include Transparent, Sense8, and Orange Is the New Black. Queer characters are also more prominent as side characters as well.

That’s not to say that today’s TV landscape is perfect. After all, there’s that pesky trope of queer characters being killed off for shock value. Queer people of color and other members of of the extended LGBTQ+ family can also do with better representation.

Where Does Will & Grace Stand Today?

So how does Will & Grace compare to today’s line-up? I know the show is only a couple episodes in, but it still has its issues with people of color. Critics have lambasted the show for its portrayal of the character Rosario Salazer, a maid of Latin descent. While her character did not return to the revival (by her own accord), the show seemingly replaced her with another token Latin(x) character, Grace’s assistant. So far, he has served solely as the object of sexual harassment at the hands of Karen and Grace, which seems a little off-putting, especially in light of Hollywood’s current issues. I’m hoping they do more with his character, so for now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

will & grace
In a recent episode, “Grandpa Jack” Episode 105, Jack finds out his grandson is being sent to conversion camp. (Photo by Chris Haston/NBC)

In the first few episodes, Will & Grace has already taken on Trump and queer issues in a way that no major TV network show has done before. The most recent episode explored conversion therapy and having conservative family members that support it. This type of exploration is something that has been missing in major network TV.

Will & Grace also has more freedom than ever before now. In these first few episodes, both Will and Jack have dated other men. During its original airing, we heard mentions of dating, but those mentions seldom included any displays of affection. With its newfound freedom in changed times, the show expresses its characters’ sexualities in new ways.

Even so, the show’s lesbian and bisexual representation wavered in its first few episodes. It featured some lesbian characters in its first run, but so far it’s lacking in that department. Karen’s character has been seen as sexually open in the past, so it will be interesting to see if they expand on that.

Looking Ahead

I will admit that its a little disappointing that other cancelled shows that feature queer characters, like Doubt or The New Normal, can’t prosper like Will & Grace. I wish networks and viewers gave these shows more of a chance, instead of re-launching older shows.

With that being said, Will & Grace continues to be one of TV’s queerest shows. I’d say it has to be one of the best queer representations on major network TV. I can’t wait to see what else the show has in store for us.

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