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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Will & Grace returns after more than a decade

Putting the genie back in the bottle – especially for a series that drew more than 17 million viewers in its prime – can be tricky

The cast of Will & Grace – left to right, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally – are back together. Courtesy NBC
The cast of Will & Grace – left to right, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally – are back together. Courtesy NBC

In a perfect television world, the dearly departed comedies we love would neither be “reinvented” nor “rebooted” – with endless tinkering, curveballs and new characters that mean nothing to us. They would simply pick up where they left off, just like we remember them.

That’s why the “revival” of Will & Grace appears destined to be a hit all over again with its return on OSN Series Comedy HD, more than a decade after its fabulous foursome said b’bye after eight seasons, 194 episodes and 16 Emmys.

Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally are back as lawyer Will, interior designer Grace, struggling actor Jack and wealthy socialite Karen, respectively, to squabble like idiots and revel in their sterling friendships. As well, legendary director James Burrows, who lensed every episode then, is back behind the camera now.

To drive home how little has changed, and to woo fans both old and new, the four stars even link hands in a promotional video to sing: “We’ve come home at last .... Yes, everything’s as if we’ve never said goodbye.”

They're true to their word – Will and Grace are living together; Jack is across the hall; Karen is still rich – just as they did for eight seasons from 1998 to 2006.

“We just get back to business,” McCormack says.

So where are the characters now? Has anything changed? The answer is a qualified yes, with minor tweaks.

“Jack will be teaching a class, and he has branded a new style of acting called ‘Jack-ting’. So you’ll see that,” says Hayes, at 47, the youngest of the four. “It’s a gift that we get to embody these characters again.”

“Grace is doing incredibly well in her professional life,” Messing, 49, adds. “She really has advanced a lot, and she is single. And for reasons that will be explained, Will and Grace are living together once again.”

Critically praised for their sitcom, which pushed the societal envelope in its first incarnation, original creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan are also back with rapid-fire wit and insults honed to a razor sheen, joined by Hayes, who has also stepped up behind the scenes as an executive producer.

“The society we live in is never-ending with social issues and problems that we will tackle now,” Hayes says. “So these characters will exist in 2017 – and deal with the issues everybody’s talking about.”

With an approval rating of 84 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, the first new half-hour takes on the controversial presidency of Donald Trump, when Grace ponders a gig renovating the White House. After all, the First Couple are pals of Karen’s.

The genesis for this ninth season traces back to September last year, when the cast reunited for a 10-minute online special urging Americans to vote in the presidential election. It made quite a splash, which spurred NBC to explore the notion of putting Will & Grace back into production, a decision it announced in January.

Since then, NBC’s confidence has only grown; what began as a 10-episode order was upped to 12, then 16. Then the network doubled down by renewing the show for a 10th season of 13 episodes for 2018 – even before the first new episode aired last Thursday in the United States.

Putting the genie back in the bottle – especially for a series that drew more than 17 million viewers in its prime – can be tricky. One can scarcely afford to stray from the original winning formula. Yet to recapture the magic of yesteryear in its purest form, some baggage had to be shed before the revival could truly get underway.

In the original series finale in May 2006, the story flashed forward two decades to reveal Jack and Karen living together comfortably. Meanwhile, Will had raised a son, Ben, while Grace had raised a daughter, Laila, after remarrying her ex, Leo (Harry Connick Jr). Their children, who met at college, were planning to marry. This uplifting news served as a catalyst for Will and Grace to reminisce about the good times and gather at a bar with Jack and Karen to toast their friendship, in the concluding reunion.

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Well, apparently those children and that marriage never happened.

Giving a hint of clarification, Mullally, 58, pipes up: “Well, all I can say is, my first line is: ‘I had the craziest dream.’”

“We did a lot of age make-up (for the 2006 finale),” McCormack says. “When they realised that that’s not how we look now, that we aged a little better than our make-up, we thought: ‘We don’t have to do that. We don’t have to jump so far and make such bold decisions.’

“I think we realised we were at our funniest and our loosest before all those commitments. So we’re creating a very quick reason – that none of those exist.”

Of stepping back into Will’s shoes, McCormack, 54, says: “The most challenging part at my age is sitcom lighting. I’m scared about that. But the easiest part is always the four of us together.”

Will & Grace airs on October 4 at 9.30pm on OSN Series Comedy HD