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‘Will & Grace’ Returns in Midseason Form

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Will & Grace tries to navigate a delicate line, seeking to be topical and relevant—almost 20 years after its premiere, and more than a decade since its end—while still maintaining its broad comedic signature. For the most part, the revival pulls that off, returning to NBC in the equivalent of midseason form.

Fans should be able to slide right back in—a lot fewer of them than during the show’s “Must-See TV” heyday, almost surely, yet enough that NBC’s pre-premiere Season 2 renewal doesn’t seem quite so much like a premature declaration of victory.

Faced with the inevitable challenge of puttying in the extended gap, the producers wryly handle that in the premiere by having Karen (Megan Mullally) awaken from a nap, rattling off a laundry list of what’s transpired in the intervening years, just to make sure she hadn’t dreamed it. When she double checks who won the election, Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) sullenly respond, “Your guy.”

That sets up a premiere episode that’s probably the weakest of the three previewed, with both Will and Grace having their political principles tested—he by an attractive congressman, her by a professional opportunity.

The weightier issues, admittedly, aren’t always a perfect fit with the wild antics of Karen and Jack (Sean Hayes) or the physical gags—including a Grace-Karen sequence in a subsequent episode that plays like a Lucy-Ethel homage—and some efforts to comment upon the political and cultural moment, like name-checking Caitlyn Jenner, can feel a trifle forced.

The show’s at its strongest, actually, in reflecting the not-all-that-long-ago passage of time since the idea of a network show so prominently featuring gay men was deemed daring and groundbreaking. That’s especially true of a plot in which Will dates a much-younger guy who seems mystified that coming out was ever such a big deal.

Then again, it was politics—and a video supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy—that initiated this reunion, and the one thing that’s pretty undeniable is that the chemistry still works. If TV shows, and especially sitcoms, are ultimately about family in whatever form one constructs it, then Will and Grace and their two wacky grown-up kids haven’t missed much of a beat.

While the nostalgia/reboot/revival craze has brought back lots of artifacts from TV’s past, perhaps that’s why this one feels more natural and organic than most. Sure, middle-aged folks likely wouldn’t be sharing an apartment, regularly hanging out or popping into each other’s lives so frequently if the TV gods hadn’t mandated it, but one way or another, these four would always be together.

Will & Grace premieres Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. Central on NBC.

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