May 18, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Eight years,” says Debra Messing. Hours after completing the first read-through of the penultimate episode of Will & Grace, one half of the show’s titular duo is feeling a bit emotional. ”I broke down crying last week. It’s palpable. We’ve essentially gone through high school and college together.”

And on May 18, school’s out forever: The envelope-pushing NBC sitcom — about successful gay lawyer Will (Eric McCormack); his straight interior-decorator best friend Grace (Messing); her perpetually drunk socialite assistant Karen (Megan Mullally); and their hedonistic hanger-on, Jack (Sean Hayes) — makes its last triple entendre, mocks its final self-obsessed celebrity, and reveals whether Will and Grace will decide to raise her soon-to-arrive baby together or pair off with their respective beaux. ”At the beginning, a large part of the audience was rooting for Will and Grace to get together,” says co-creator Max Mutchnick. ”I hope that by the finale, they’ll be rooting for each of them to have their own thing. You want the audience to understand that they are not meant to be.”

A romantic comedy with the ultimate obstacle, Will & Grace charmed audiences with its intriguing setup — peaking in season 3 with 17.3 million viewers. After its second year, it took home the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy and would later become one of the few TV shows in history to win Emmys for its entire cast. But with success came problems: In year 5, co-creators Mutchnick and David Kohan left for other projects — and the show hit a creative slump in seasons 6 and 7. (Mutchnick and Kohan returned in 2004.) It now reaches about 8 million viewers each week. ”This show has to end now,” says McCormack. ”It would have been nice to have another year of these people and these words, but it would have been detrimental.”

Judging from that table read, the show’s humor is back to being as fresh as it felt in 1998, when it was unclear whether America would embrace a series primarily about gay life. But W&G has masterfully balanced wickedly sexual humor with ”wacky” but relatable characters that a broad swath of fans can’t help but love. With only four new episodes remaining, we’ve created an A-to-Z of W&G‘s best moments, bitchiest supporting players, and biggest guest stars. We know what you’re thinking. As Cher once said to Jack: ”Get a life!”

A. Anastasia Beaverhausen
Karen’s naughty, multipurpose alias, adopted early on so that she could gather dirt on socialite nemesis Joan Collins. She’s used it six times in all, including once when she wanted to go incognito at Banana Republic.

B. Beverley Leslie
Diminutive, prissy pal of Karen’s (played by character actor Leslie Jordan) whose howl-worthy denial of his own homosexuality made him a fan favorite. ”He literally makes every single person laugh,” says Hayes. Adds McCormack: ”Even when he’s around, you miss him. Because he’s just that short.”

C. Cher
Jack’s biggest celebrity obsession became one of the series’ first A-list guest stars in season 3 and appeared as God a year later. ”These iconic people that you meet can go either way,” says Hayes. ”If they’re that famous, they must be difficult in every way — but Cher was grounded, and willing to do anything.”

type
TV Show
seasons
11
Genre
run date
09/21/98
Network
Complete Coverage

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