Ken Tucker
May 14, 1999 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Will & Grace

type
TV Show
genre
Comedy
run date
09/21/98
performer
Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally
broadcaster
NBC
seasons
9
Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B+

It’s a good sign that the season finale for the sitcom Will & Grace concludes on an unhappy note. All season, the show has tootled merrily along, extracting big laughs from its premise: that gay Will (Eric McCormack) and straight Grace (Debra Messing) are made for each other in every way except romantically. The series also features this season’s strongest new supporting players: ultra-fey Jack (Sean Hayes) and ultra-hag Karen (Megan Mullally), whose shrill, increasingly repetitive but still funny byplay often threatens to overshadow the title characters.

The season-ender takes a hoary concept — Karen’s illegal-immigrant maid (Shelley Morrison) marries Jack in order to secure a green card — and manages to wring laughs from it. (After the ceremony, Will says drily, ”I haven’t seen a kiss that uncomfortable since Richard Gere and Jodie Foster in Sommersby.”) And the show continues to benefit enormously from the regular direction of sitcom genius James Burrows, who keeps the pace humming and surrounds the air around the more fragile punchlines with strong physical comedy.

But sooner or later, W&G‘s concept had to hit a wall. The pair initially moved in together to help each other through separate busted relationships. To remain remotely believable, however, Will and Grace each has to get a boyfriend, and, as they say in therapy (and in this episode) ”move on.”

The problem, of course, is finding a Special Someone for Will who won’t turn W&G into a male version of Ellen, in which homosexuality became not the context for exploring a relationship with humor, but a Bold, Challenging Statement. W&G‘s finale leaves each protagonist still unattached, but more dubious than ever of the healthiness of their attachment to each other. It will require all the skill of Burrows (if he remains on board next season) and show creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan to come up with a way to have Will and Grace expand their social lives while also remaining close pals.

As for Jack and Karen — well, they’re already living in their own chummy little fantasy world (I’d call it Camp Camp). Since Karen’s always saying her marriage is terrible and Jack’s always out of a job, why not have Karen divorce, make an alimony killing, and ask Jack to move in with her? B+

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