Holiday editions of sitcoms are a venerable tradition, if rarely very funny. (The exception: Every Thanksgiving episode of The Middle. Really; check them out.) On Tuesday night, Will & Grace attempts a jolly Christmas episode and succeeds on the strength of its stars’ performances. Through a setup too strained to bother summarizing, the bulk of the half-hour finds Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes), and Karen (Megan Mullally) in turn-of-the-20th-century garb, portraying New York City residents under duress. Titled “A Gay Olde Christmas,” the premise features Karen heading up a large Irish immigrant family, with Jack an equally Irish tough sailor. Will sports a handlebar mustache as a hardhearted landlord; Grace is his wife, a funny girl named Fanny. (And yes, there are a couple of Barbra Streisand Funny Girl jokes.)
Like a lot of this new season of Will & Grace, the extent to which you’ll enjoy “A Gay Olde Christmas” depends on how funny you find loads of double entendres for gay sex. The writers make the volume of such jokes part of the joke — I mentally checked out after, “He’s a mustache-bumper.” No — actually, it was earlier; after, “He only travels by tunnel.” You’d think the studio audience would groan; instead, they guffaw. The whole thing is redeemed by the performances. Mullally does the best Irish accent, rolling the syllables around in her mouth with relish. (Yum?) It wouldn’t be Will & Grace if there weren’t a subplot about someone in the closet — in this case, two of them: all of Karen’s nine children (they hide in a closet so the landlord doesn’t evict them) and Will’s landlord character, a gay man in denial, who can barely contain his lust for a T-shirted Jack. It’s amusing to see Jack play against type as a surly macho type.
Toss in a joke about Oreo cookies (I assume they set this episode specifically in 1912 to coincide with the year the Oreo was introduced), a semi-timely joke about Donald Trump’s father, Fred (he would have been 7 years old in 1912), and the keep-things-moving staging of long-time W&G director James Burrows, and you’ve got a solid holiday episode of Will & Grace. I could have done without the Santa Claus is “an old white perv we once trusted” line, though. Is nothing sacred?
Will & Grace airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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