Tuned In

Will & Grace Lives — For One Night, Anyway

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When Will & Grace announced it was doing a live performance for its season opener, Americans shared the same reaction: "Damn it! Will & Grace is still on the air! I owe the guy in the next cubicle five bucks!" Which is pretty much what NBC was going for. In a few short years, Must-See Thursday devolved into Must-Tape-While-Watching-CBS Thursday and thence to Oh-Never-Mind-Fox-Just-Moved-The-O.C.-to-Thursday Thursday. CBS still nearly had twice as many viewers as NBC last night, but Will & Grace at least finished a respectable second place thanks to viewers drawn back by the stunt.

What did they find? I admit, even this guy paid to watch TV has drifted away from this sitcom over the past few seasons, as it relied on celebrity guests and its central characters fell into a rut of snideness, like prisoners in a particularly acerbic Hell. But apparently Stan, the "late" husband of Karen (Megan Mullally) has turned up alive, hidden, we are told by Will (Eric McCormack), as part of a government plan to hide him from dangerous criminals. If you were wondering when Will & Grace turned into Passions with gay jokes, you’re not alone: between the over-the-top plot, the live-set lighting and the occasionally tripped-on lines, the live show literally looked like a soap opera.

Still, the performance itself was tight and free of major gaffes. You’d expect that from a crack cast with 8 seasons’ experience working together, so the car-crash suspense factor was missing. (Me, I want to see the live episode of Stacked.) No, the main drawback was the audience, which proved that real laughter is more distracting than the canned stuff. The pumped-up crowd overcompensated on the guffaws, giggling even at straight lines and going hog wild over Alec Baldwin planting a fat kiss on McCormack. You hardly notice a laugh track on a sitcom anymore, but the howls here just reminded you that the performance was a big party to which you weren’t invited.

The actors, though, had nothing to be ashamed of–not even hanging on for the paycheck in a sitcom that probably should have been retired a couple seasons ago. (This year is scheduled to be W&G‘s last.) The few flubs came in scenes between Debra Messing and Sean Hayes and were more endearing than anything. Messing broke up at Hayes’ delivery of a lecture about sleeping with married men: "When an opportunity comes, I don’t question it. I grab it, drop its ring on the nightstand and swing on it ’til dawn!"

Hayes returned the favor during a bit involving an eye patch — literally, a sight gag — and the pair’s cozy, conspiratorial giggles seemed less like a slip-up than a moment between old colleagues who enjoyed each other’s company. It was a sweet interlude, and enough to remind a lapsed fan of better days. Even if next week I’ll be watching Survivor: Guatemala again.