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Entertainment Weekly

TV Recaps

Will & Grace recap: 'A Gay Olde Christmas'

Chris Haston/NBC

Posted on

We gave it an A

Will and Grace

9/21/98 - 1/1/70

TV Show
genre new
Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally

Don we now our gayest apparel. Why? Because it’s the Will & Grace holiday special.

Last time we were with the gang, it was a gut punch of an episode, with Karen saying her final goodbyes to Rosario. But this is the holiday special, Shelley Morrison is okay, and Will & Grace does the holidays incredibly well. Honestly, if you’re not counting at least one holiday episode among your top 10, then what show are you watching?

Will and Grace start out on Christmas Eve waiting on a restaurant table to open up as a hipster Javier Bardem tells them their wait is nearly an hour. Will wants to bail, but Grace insists he remember the reason for the season: getting dinner on Christmas Eve so they don’t have to see their families. But once Karen and Jack arrive post gift exchange, Javier tells the crew that the wait has gotten even longer, and Will is out. He doesn’t even feel like celebrating anymore. He spirals and gives up on Christmas entirely.

On the way back, everyone stops into the Immigrant Historical Society for Grace to use the bathroom — which she can only do, of course, if they agree to take a tour of the museum. While Grace is away, Will picks up a book and says how much he loved old New York. And then they get their chance to experience it.

As the museum worker opens the door, he reveals the world of an Irish immigrant in New York in 1912. Carolyn O’Sullivan bears a striking resemblance to Karen, and it probably helps that she was drinking the night before. She gives her six kids onions for Christmas and instructs one of the youngest boys to “pour me a drink, Smitty!” And honestly, if the episode ended here, it would be perfect. Smitty: An Origin Story. Of course, Smitty has terrible news about someone else’s misfortune, and Carolyn absolutely finds it hysterical, which means that O’Sullivan-Walker family lineage has to be strong.

But at that moment, a visitor stops by — and it’s Jack, except now his name is John Patrick, he’s looking for a bed to rent, and he thinks Carolyn is fabulous. Problem is, he has no money. He’s just merry and gay. Super gay. Especially for the women he has intercourse with. Homophones, girl, do you get it? Since we’re here and queer (okay, that doesn’t work as well), let’s have a brief conversation: I’m not sure if it’s the harsh sepia tone lighting or the ruffled hair, but it’s working for Sean Hayes. Of course, when he takes off his coat to reveal some serious biceps, that doesn’t hurt either.

They’re interrupted by Carolyn’s landlord, Billem, played by Will. He’s even got that incredible mustache he was talking about earlier in that book about old New York. Billem is just like Will in that he is in quite a bad mood on Christmas, but when John Patrick comes around, Billem has a new wish for Santa. He’s got a wife of his own, though, and he gets pretty cagey before turning to Carolyn and saying that he needs her rent by sundown or he’ll see her in the streets. Back at home, Billem looks for wife Fanny — it’s Grace, in all her 1912 glory.

But Fanny and Billem’s marriage isn’t the happiest one. She’s not allowed to, well, do anything a woman would do in 2017. And to top it off, she’s not sharing a bed with Billem, because, um, Billem is definitely as much of a giant homosexual as Will is in present day. Billem launches into a speech about John Patrick being out in the cold, and all the while he’s running his fingers up and down his cane, staring off in the distance, and if I continue, this recap will have to start with an NSFW warning. Billem takes off, and in one of the funniest moments in the episode, Fanny gets the idea to take that O-reo she’s newly obsessed with and dunk it in milk. It’s just a reminder of how hilarious Debra Messing can be simply on her own. (Recap continues on page 2)

Back at Carolyn’s place, they’re still 10 dollars short on rent, even after selling off Smitty’s wooden leg. She hides the kids again as a visitor reappears, but it’s not Billem. It’s John Patrick, and he’s discovered some information on Billem. He is a sweeper of chimneys, which is the most charming new way of referring to someone’s homosexuality I’ve ever heard. But it takes a few more references before Carolyn picks up on the fact that Billem is gay. That’s when John Patrick reveals that as a sailor, it’s different. He’s had sex with men, BUT ONLY ON BOATS. And it didn’t make him feel gay, just a wee bit queer. (Damn, there it is. Worked that time.)

Billem does eventually show up with Fanny in tow, and that seriously gets in the way of John Patrick and Carolyn’s plan for him to seduce Billem. At that moment, Carolyn’s baby cries out and Fanny says, “Have mercy on this woman; her children are living in the closet.” Billem responds, “What’s wrong with living in the closet?” To cover his own tracks, he stomps his foot and tells Carolyn she’s about to be evicted, but Carolyn says that stamping his foot is disrespecting her honor, and John Patrick and Billem need to settle it outside.

And then Will & Grace (or Billem & Fanny) does what it’s been trying to do all season. But this time, it absolutely nails it. Fanny tells Carolyn that immigrants, whether Irish or Jewish, don’t always have it easy. Neither do women. But this country is about succeeding, not keeping people down. “It may take longer than it should, but we always get it right, eventually.” Of course, it’s short lived because Carolyn’s opium kicked in and she heard none of that. And at that moment, we hear thumping and Billem saying, “Oh my God!” before emerging with a cigarette to tell Carolyn she can stay in her house. Fanny says the Christmas spirit must have gotten inside of him, and, well, that’s one way to put it.

After seeing that (very specific) story, the group has new feelings about Christmas. But, you know, then they learn that Carolyn served four years in prison, John Patrick died at sea, and Billem was convicted of sodomy. But Fanny was the first woman to vote in New York! Oh, um, she was also the first woman murdered for voting in New York. So there’s that. In any case, it’s a reminder to the group that things are better now than they used to be. Jack says, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice,” which should be a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, but turns out Jack dated a guy named Justice and the arc of history is what they called his…oh, never mind.

At the end of the night, the bells strike midnight, and that 65 degree weather somehow produces the snow that Karen promised Jack. Grace erupts into a rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and you know what? It is a merry little Christmas, with its own set of episode bloopers.

Some Christmas Notables

God bless us, every one. And see you, Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen in the New Year.