When planning the revival of a beloved TV show, it would be easy for a core cast member to force the producers through an obstacle course of hoops to jump through. After all, when your character’s name is in the title, the show literally can’t go on without you. Debra Messing, however, didn’t hold Will & Grace’s 2017 return to NBC hostage with a litany of demands. Instead, the woman who puts the “Grace” in Will & Grace had but one request. “The only thing that I asked for was that Grace be a feminist. That she have a voice,” Messing revealed recently at the Tribeca TV Festival. Now that the Will & Grace revival officially premiered on Thursday night, fans have already seen Grace Adler’s feminist flag fly. In a show obsessed with Donald Trump’s politics, Grace’s straightforward outlook — no “I’m a humanist” subterfuge here — couldn’t be more necessary.
The most important component of Grace’s feminism in the premiere “11 Years Later” is the fact she’s a tired feminist. Since Will & Grace has always essentially lived in our world, 45 was elected nearly a year ago in the comedy’s universe, and the former reality TV host and sexual assault apologist has been in the White House for about eight months. And, just like in the real world, the effects of that reality is exhausting. “I used to be woke,” Grace laments. “Now I use my pussy hat to sneak candy into the movies.” While that line signals Grace is the kind of feminist who probably attended the Women’s March in January 2017, it also shows she’s the kind of feminist who’s getting fatigued by resisting for hundreds upon hundreds of days. That’s deeply relatable. Women deserve to know they’re not Bad Feminists for lacking the stamina to be angry 24/7, 365.
Seeing Grace juggle her feminism with her daily life struggles gets especially interesting when she’s offered a gig redecorating the White House’s Oval Office. Of course, this would usually be the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only would the job likely pay very well, it would also put her in a new stratosphere of interior design. Traditionally, this is the kind of career move that puts a woman in the pages of Vogue and Architectural Digest with lush images of her design prowess taking up two-page spreads. Soon enough, HGTV could be knocking on the door.
But, these days the White House isn’t politics as usual, so it’s not design as usual either. That’s why feminist-Grace first shuts down the “opportunity” Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) found, saying, “Obviously, I wouldn’t even consider it.” As many have pointed out, working with the president makes you complicit in most dangerous, xenophobic, and prejudiced policies and tweets. Most self-avowed feminists would “hate themselves,” as Grace puts it, for going to work under Donald Trump. Yet, by the end of Grace’s conversation with Karen, the designer is promising to be on the D.C.-bound train 15 minutes early. Grace can’t ignore the siren sound of redecorating the White House, no matter her personal beliefs.
Since this is a sitcom revival that got its start in opposition to Trump, it’s not like viewers were ever going to see their heroine paling around with the politician. Although Grace starts attempting to redesign the Oval to prove the “owner” is “there from time to time” — using an orange Cheeto puff to compare swatches to Trump’s coloring, natch — she doesn’t end up finishing the job. Rather, she gets into a passive aggressive-turned-pain old aggressive pillow fight with Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and leaves a “Make America Gay Again!” red hat on the president’s chair. It’s a reminder that faltering in your feminism doesn’t mean you can’t fix your mistakes. Considering how easy it is to fall into problematic pitfalls in these divisive days, it’s a note a lot of women likely need.
On top of Grace’s Donald Trump journey, it’s important to see how she behaves as a progressive boss. As we’ve already noted, Will & Grace still has a ways to go in terms of racial inclusion. The show is confusingly lacking when it comes to giving people of color meaningful roles, despite the fact it takes place in bustling metropolises like New York City and Washington D.C. Yet, we do get one purposeful conversation between Grace and her employee Tony (Anthony Ramos), who is played by a Puerto Rican actor. Throughout “11 Years,” it’s made quite clear Karen is a proud Trump supporter who doesn’t shy away from making unsettling political statement in the same insulting vein as “her guy.” Finally, Grace asks Tony if Karen’s comments are offensive to him.
While Tony denies his pseudo boss’ political belief offend him — instead, everything else about Karen is guilty of that faux pas — it’s good to see Grace use her privilege as an affluent white woman and boss for good, rather than allow a young man of color suffer through a fraught work environment. Grace may not be a paragon of intersectional feminism just yet, but at least she’s working towards it.
The Will & Grace revivial, with its sprawling Manhattan apartments and historic LGBTQ-friendly storylines, is obviously a show aimed at liberal, moneyed viewers. If it can remind those viewers Sometimes-Bad Feminism is better than no feminism at all, we’re off to a good start.
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