Surf Report

Ihadn’t watched Will & Grace for a couple of years, but picked it up again a few months ago in anticipation of the finale, just to see how this intermittently maddening and punchy sitcom would finesse its exit: salty tears or salty dialogue? Both, it turns out, hewing to the tonal unevenness that this gay-man/straight-woman-times-two series has never been able to shake. Sometimes the last episode’s serious threat of a permanent rift — over whether Debra Messing’s Grace was going back to ex Leo (Harry Connick Jr.) to raise her kid, or enter into sexless guardianship with Eric McCormack’s Will — felt like the realistic ebbing of a long friendship, and sometimes those stern-faced moments played like breaks between one-liners. The problem Will & Grace never fully resolved over its eight years was whether it was situationally witty and honest like The Mary Tyler Moore Show or a loopy after-hours Noel Coward play. When it wanted your helpless laughter and your breathless concern simultaneously, it was like being in a car with clutch problems. But the finale went ahead and tried to thread that needle again, and by hour’s end I realized it couldn’t have been any other way. On the silly front, the Kevin Bacon cameo was whatever, but hilarious was the dream-sequence gag that age has ravaged everyone except Megan Mullally’s surgery-happy socialite Karen (one of the all-time great sitcom characters), who looks exactly the same. And on the sappy front, I wouldn’t have picked a serious cabaret rendition of “Unforgettable” for the defiantly unserious Karen and Jack’s last moments, and yet the happy we’re-all-together close to the strains of Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” felt right. Hey, no one said friendships were emotionally consistent. Do all sitcoms have to be?

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