Monday, March 17, 2008

Wilt thou not once vouchsafe to hide my Will in thine?

I’m most of the way through the second season of Will and Grace on DVD, thanks to my public library. (There was an essay by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times today, lamenting the “democratization” of public libraries – nothing new there! – because the New York City library system is having an event at the Fifth Avenue branch, built around video games. “Nothing in this event embodies the slightest hint of cultural aspiration, except the library’s own aspiration for a wider public.” Much “Ain’t It Awful?” about the decline of something or other. I do expect my public library to have Dickens and Austen and Shakepeare and Woolf, and it does. But it also has embroidery patterns, cookbooks, graphic novels, and videos, as it should have. The whiner in the Times, by the way, gave no evidence that the New York libraries were going to throw out their literary classics and stock only Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto. Can’t something be done about these alarmist cretins?)

Until I began watching it on DVD, I’d never seen Will and Grace. I really don’t watch television. But I’d been hearing about the show for years, especially in connection with such vital issues as Jack’s “stereotypicality” and Will’s lack of a love life, so when I found the first season DVDs on the shelf at the library last year, I decided to see for myself. And I was surprised: it was reasonably well-written and very well-acted, and it made me laugh a lot. That might be because it comes from what I suppose I must call a Gay Sensibility: even though it must, by the nature of broadcast TV, be accessible to a straight audience, it still assumes that audience to be gay-friendly and willing to identify with gay characters. When Jack and Will make jokes built on gay stereotypes – as gay men do, frequently – the show assumes that the audience will laugh with them, as well as at them. Apparently TV audiences did so, for years, and that is no small achievement. Yet I had to make almost no adjustments while watching: there is very little earnest preaching about how We’re just like You, sort of, except for our adoration of Cher and Britney and our tendency to frame our faces à la Judy at least once per episode. I found Will and Grace easy to watch, such appealing brain candy that I’ve been watching each disc of six episodes in sequence, like bonbons. Just one more episode tonight won’t hurt, I keep telling myself as I proceed. (If only I had a divan and a peignoir.)

What I particularly wanted to address here was Will’s love life. Contrary to what I heard from everyone, he does have one, more so in Season Two than in Season One as I recall. He goes out on dates about as often as Grace does, and we see the men he’s dating, and the implication is clear that he has sex with them. So far I don’t recall having seen him in bed with one, even for post-coital conversation (though Grace has been seen so with her SNAG boyfriend Josh), and that is a problem, though not a serious one for me in itself. Ditto for kisses, and that is a minor problem. One episode in Season Two has Will lock lips with Jack as they protest the failure of a TV sitcom in their world to show two men kissing. It’s a highly self-referential kiss (look! we’re protesting the absence of kisses in our sitcom by showing a kiss!), and there’s no romance in it at all. I still have one disc and several seasons to watch – did things improve? No, don’t tell me, I’ll find out for myself.

Maybe most bothersome in this connection is the episode where Will is having a recurring nightmare of Grace coming into his bedroom and the two of them making love. It’s actually more than we’ve seen Grace do with any of her straight dates, and it would be a lovely scene – if only it were not in a gay sitcom. I love the way the two of them come together so intimately, but it only highlights the absence of such scenes between men on the show. There have been male-male love scenes of equivalent beauty in films, mostly foreign or small-budget independent, and since I don’t watch TV anyhow, I’m not complaining too much. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I'd like to munch on a few more Will and Grace bonbons tonight.